Minnesota House Extending Rights

ST. PAUL, Minn. —Legislation is advancing through the Minnesota House and Senate to extend the right to collective bargaining to thousands of Minnesota wor-kers who work as individual home health care providers and family childcare providers.

Proponents say the legislation is needed so these vital services will be provided by qualified individuals who will gain the ability to advocate together to ensure quality service delivery for the benefit of people of all ages in their care.

What started as two separate legislative initiatives — one bill for home health care workers, one bill for family childcare providers — merged into one piece of legislation (S778, H844). The chief authors are state Sen. Sandy Pappas (Democratic-Farmer-Labor-St. Paul) and Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park).

The effort to pass the legislation brings together in common cause SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, which is organizing among individual home care providers, and AFSCME Council 5, which is organizing among family childcare providers.

“We’re meeting with [AFSCME] regularly and coordinating,” said Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.

The legislation would allow home care workers and family childcare providers to organize and bargain collectively with the state of Minnesota on the basis that state funding subsidies and regulations affect these workers as a common class — and that the state has an interest in the delivery of quality home care and childcare.

If passed, the legislation would set in motion twin processes allowing individual home care providers and family childcare providers to vote by mail ballot as statewide units to decide whether or not they wanted to collectively bargain with the state.

About 12,000 to 15,000 individual home care providers could be eligible to vote while about 9,000 family childcare providers could be eligible to vote. If these workers vote yes, Minnesota would see a historic expansion of the number of workers represented by collective bargaining. Similar legislation has passed in several other states.

But the collective bargaining rights for these workers, as defined by the legislation, would be limited. The workers, for example, would not have the right to strike.

“The home care workers have a lot of support,” Gulley said. They and the people for whom they care have provided riveting testimony to legislators about how high
turnover and low pay impacts the quality and continuity of care for many of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. “People understand there is a problem,” Gulley said.

Likewise, for the childcare providers, “improving the quality of childcare for children is the most fundamental” reason for the initiative, said Jim Niland, legislative and political director for AFSCME Council 5.

“We think by childcare providers having the ability to unionize, they can more effectively advocate for increased childcare subsidies and the quality of childcare.” Niland added: “That’s been the experience in other states where childcare providers have won the right to collectively bargain.”

As the final weeks of the legislative session near, “it’s full steam ahead,” SEIU’s Gulley said. “Between the two chambers, we are through nine of 12 committees we need to visit before we hit the floor. I expect we’ll be through all our committees by April 26 and then to the floor,” he said. “We’re in the process of talking to legislators for the floor vote.”

Getting to the floor votes will be the end of a long process. “Twelve committees is a lot of committees,” Gulley said. “It’s been a long, winding road. We’ve focused on keeping the bill intact and preventing crippling amendments. At every committee stop, there are efforts to change the bill from the Right Wing.”

“The whole national ‘Right to Work’ constellation of forces are aggressively fighting this,” Niland noted. He hoped each legislator would listen more to a childcare worker from his or her own district than to an e-mail or phone call from an out-of-state ‘Right to Work’ advocate.

“We thank all the many union members and union-friendly folks who contacted their legislators in support of the bill,” Niland said. “And we hope they keep the pressure on in support of the right of childcare providers to unionize and collectively bargain — which is the American way.”

“We’ve appreciated the help of the AFL-CIO and the whole labor movement,” Gulley added.

“I feel increasingly good about our chances of passing this bill,” said Niland. “It’s met the committee deadlines in both chambers and we’ve had strong support from the caucus leaders and many DFL legislators in helping pass it.”