SAINT PAUL – Home care workers and clients celebrated a state budget deal that included the funding and ratification of the union contract that covers nearly 29,000 home care workers across Minnesota. The contract, negotiated earlier this year with the administration of Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, saw strong bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature.
Kristina Walker, a home care worker from Crystal who helps provide care for her older brother who needs 24-hour care after having a stroke, shared why the contract is so important to families across the state:
“I love that I can keep my loved one near me and make sure they get good care. I am literally my brother’s keeper. I’ve cared for other people but caring for my brother has brought us even closer. But it’s hard to survive paying the bills with the ways things are,” said Walker. “I’m excited for the wage increase which will help me and my brother be able to look for better housing and bring stability to our family. Home care workers did so much this last year, and have so much dignity in our work, so winning this wage increase, increased training gains and extra benefits will be a big step towards getting us where we need to be. And some of the other home care policy changes adopted by lawmakers are going to make other needed improvements too. We still have work to do, but this opens the gates for a better future for home care workers and better care for everyone who needs care.”
The contract agreement was reached between members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and the State of Minnesota in January and will bring in over $350 million in additional state and federal funding over the next four years for services for seniors and people with disabilities. The contract, the fourth between the state and the statewide home care workers’ union, includes gains such as a $15.25 minimum wage for all home care workers beginning July 1, 2022.
Marty Eleby, a 25-year home care worker from Minneapolis who currently makes $13.25, shared why this contract is so important to care workers and the clients they serve:
“I love caring for people, making sure they are safe and happy, but it is hard to do this work for such little pay. With the higher pay coming from this contract, I can make sure myself and my client have more of the things we need to get by,” said Eleby. “So many Minnesotans depend on home care workers to survive, get the treatment they need to stay at home and just to have company so they aren’t alone. Seeing the wage floor go up to $15.25 and getting more benefits & training will help make sure we have enough caregivers who will do this work to ensure our clients get the care they deserve.”
Ratification and funding of the home care workers’ contract has attracted strong bipartisan support in both chambers. Once it is signed by the Governor, the provisions in the contract will go into effect on July 1st, 2021. The chief authors of the stand-alone funding and ratification bills were Rep. Luke Frederick (DFL–Mankato) and Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL–Brooklyn Park) in the House and Senator Jeff Howe (R–Rockville) and Senator Jeremy Miller (R–Winona) in the Senate.
Lauren Thompson, a home care client from Crystal who was on the bargaining team, shared the importance of this contract for people who rely on home care services to live their lives:
“This contract starts to create a stable foundation that home care clients haven’t had in a very long time. These investments will mean our workers can have sustainable employment and we as clients can be safer. This industry has been so deprived for so long and this contract begins to fill the gaps and professionalize and incentivise this critical work,” said Thompson. “COVID exacerbated the existing problems of finding home care workers for so many Minnesotans. Funding home care and making sure people can live at home is not only the right thing to do, but saves lives and money. This contract, and the other improvements to home care made by Gov. Walz and state lawmakers, is a step towards dismantling ableism and creating equity not only in terms of helping build a sustainable workforce for workers but also making it so clients have access to our community and can simply live our lives.”
The bargaining team — made up of home care workers, clients and family caregivers — negotiated with the state over four months to reach this agreement, culminating in an 18-hour bargaining session on January 15th when the final agreement was reached. Union home care workers overwhelmingly voted to ratify the tentative agreement in early February. Even before COVID, thousands of families across Minnesota were struggling with a care crisis causing seniors and people with disabilities to not be able to find workers to provide the care they need to stay safely in their homes.
Highlights of the contract include:
- Minimum wage increased from $13.25 to $14.40 in October 2021 and to $15.25 in July 2022, a 15% increase
- More Paid Time Off: accrual rate improved from 1 hour per 40 hours worked to 1 hour per 30 hours worked
- Two new floating holidays paid at time-and-a-half each year, allowing home care workers to receive extra pay when their clients need care on religious holidays for the first time, and bringing the total time-and-a-half holidays in the union contract each year to 7
- Added funding to provide trainings and $500 stipends for home care workers who complete a set of training courses, to enhance the quality of care they provide to people with disabilities and seniors
- Concrete steps toward further professionalization of the Minnesota home care workforce in the future, such as establishing a higher wage for long-time/experienced home care workers and providing better orientation to new home care workers
Thanks to President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and strong bipartisan support for home care at the state level, an additional set of improvements and investments in home care were also approved by state legislators and Gov. Walz. They include:
- Over $30 million in additional state funding for PCAs (matched by a greater amount than that from the federal government, thanks to the American Rescue Plan) through a new PCA rate framework that will allow an additional wage increase on top of the $14.40 negotiated in the union contract, to be set through collective bargaining
- Home care workers will be compensated for time spent driving clients to appointments, for the first time
- More home care workers will qualify for the 7.5% “enhanced rate” (an additional wage increase made available through our union contract): now the threshold to qualify will be if your client is assessed to need 10 or more hours a day of services, instead of 12
- The pandemic measure to allow parents and spouses to be compensated for PCA services will be extended until the end of the peacetime emergency
- $5 million in workforce-developments grants for Home and Community Based Services