St. Paul – Home care workers with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa have begun negotiating a union contract with the State of Minnesota that will cover over 20,000 home care workers (PCAs) across the state who provide in-home care for seniors and people with disabilities. Because the workers are paid through Medicaid, the contract has to be negotiated before the state’s budget comes out to ensure funding for changes are accounted for, meaning a deal must be reached in early January.
The contract agreement will be the first negotiated by the administration of Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan following the November election that saw the DFL win a majority in the House and Senate, giving the Walz administration the ability to steer a state budget that reflects their vision for union workers in Minnesota.
Barbra Kern, a home care worker for five years who lives on the Iron Range in Virginia, shared why winning a strong contract is so important to Minnesota families:
"I am a caregiver at heart. I like making a difference and helping people become more independent. I have to drive long distances to get to my clients and sometimes it feels like home care workers are the only people who advocate for our clients. I find myself going above and beyond what is expected because I see people who need more help than they are getting. It can be stressful and a heavy load to carry," said Kern. "We do way more than expected because of our compassion, and we should have higher wages for the work we do. Wages over $20 would make me feel more appreciated and acknowledged for what we do and what we provide. Higher wages and better benefits would get more workers in this field and make our job more like what it actually is: a healthcare career. Gov. Walz has the opportunity to make sure home care workers have better pay and benefits. We're hopeful he follows through and we can win a fair contract that lifts up home care workers and clients!"
As highlighted in recent news stories, Minnesotans are facing a care crisis caused by perpetually low wages and lack of benefits for these critical workers. Right now care workers have a minimum wage of $15.25 and lack healthcare and retirement benefits. Workers have won big improvements since they’ve unionized, but still face huge challenges as economic changes deplete the care workforce. Recent reports showed that there are over 15,000 open positions for this work, causing situations like the one recently in the news where a Minnesota man lost his legs due to lack of care.
Jeremy Heyer, a client of homecare services in Rochester, shared why the Minnesotans who receive services are supporting the push to improve the industry:
“As someone who is 100% reliant on assistance, having PCA's is an absolute must. I need quality, responsible, and reliable people to help me with living a productive and fulfilling life. To sustain and even recruit this type of staff, they need a fair and reasonable wage. If they are supporting me and helping me thrive. It's more than reasonable that they receive a wage that allows them to support themselves and their families. Poverty level and even low-middle income is not reasonable for the type of work and skill needed to do this vital work. If an athlete can make millions to enrich and entertain our lives, and a doctor can easily make a six-figure income to save lives, why can't a PCA make a reasonable wage to help someone live their life?”
To address the crisis, the bargaining committee is pushing for at least a $20 minimum wage, access to overtime pay and retirement security for workers who currently have neither, and other changes to protect and expand the union protections for these essential workers.
Felicia Johnson, paid parent caregiver in Minneapolis, shared what the raises the bargaining team are fighting for would mean for families across the state:
“That few extra dollars could mean that a bill can be paid on time without taking from something else that is needed. A wage increase across the board would make life easier on the parents who can't work and who depend on this as their only income. Families should not have to crush pennies to make a dollar.”
The SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa bargaining team, comprised of both workers and clients, have five scheduled bargaining sessions in December and plan to bargain the first week of session if an agreement hasn’t been reached by that point.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa unites nearly 50,000 healthcare and long-term care workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care throughout Minnesota and Iowa.