A yearslong battle over unionization of personal care attendants continued Wednesday as a handful of them sued three state agencies, asserting state government has illegally withheld information they need in their drive to decertify the union that represents them.
The attendants trying to decertify the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) must produce thousands of signatures by December to force a vote on decertification. In their lawsuit, they claim that state agencies have refused to hand over the most recent and accurate lists of workers. Without it, they have been unable to find PCAs who might sign their petition to break up the union.
They say the list they have received is from 2014, and that 40 percent of the names and contact information include outdated, faulty and nonexistent addresses.
Subsequent requests have been either denied or inadequately met, in violation of the state’s public records law, known as the Data Practices Act, according to the lawsuit.
Myron Frans, Minnesota Management and Budget commissioner, said state officials are not allowed to turn over the data.
“The state of Minnesota takes its responsibility to protect the privacy of individuals and their information seriously,” he said. “We have not seen the lawsuit in question.”
The plaintiffs are personal care attendants, or PCAs, who receive state money to care for people with disabilities, in most cases family members. They are fighting a coordinated and ultimately successful effort by Gov. Mark Dayton, DFL legislators and the SEIU to unionize them as if they were state workers because they receive state money, even though they’re not actually public employees.
SEIU organized the PCAs and won an election to unionize the 27,000 workers in 2014 before signing their first contract in 2015.
“I don’t need a union to help me take care of my daughter. And I don’t need a union taking 3 percent of our money,” said Kris Greene, a PCA who lives in Lakeville, referring to union dues.
SEIU pointed out that because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the PCA union is an “open shop,” meaning the plaintiffs are not required to join or pay dues. All PCAs, regardless of whether they are in the union, are covered by the contract that grants them a base wage of $11 per hour, paid time off and a training program.
Sumer Spika cares for three people with disabilities as a PCA in St. Paul while also managing the care of her husband, who has multiple sclerosis. She said PCAs had no voice at the Capitol until they were represented by SEIU, and that pay raises and improved benefits will help professionalize the industry.
The drawn-out effort to scuttle the SEIU illustrates the high stakes for the union and its foes. Private sector union membership has fallen to record lows, while Republicans like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have successfully fought public sector unions and diminished their political influence.
Many Republicans view public sector unions and the Democratic Party as engaged in mutual back-scratching, with unions contributing to Democratic campaigns, while Democratic elected officials agree to generous public employee contracts.
Democrats portray the attacks on unions as directed at working people and their attempts to get fair wages and benefits. And in the case of PCAs, the SEIU is representing one of the lowest-paid and fastest-growing job categories in both Minnesota and the nation, due to the rapidly aging population of people who need personal home care to avoid being institutionalized.
According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, Minnesota will likely see an increase of 45 percent in PCAs between 2012 and 2022.
Doug Seaton, an attorney who represents employers and has litigated against PCA unionization for several years, is representing the plaintiffs. The news conference on their behalf was organized by the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank.
J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042
Nearly the amount of eligible home health workers.
PCAs voted in favor of a union in 2014.
PCAs opposed forming a union.