Minnesota and Vermont Lawmakers Allow PCAs to Unionize

May 22, 2013

State legislatures in Minnesota and Vermont have passed bills giving personal care aides (PCAs) the right to join a union.

The bills are expected to be signed by each state’s respective governor — Peter Shumlin (D) in Vermont and Mark Dayton (D) in Minnesota.

In both states, the affected workers will have the ability to vote to join a union, collectively bargain with the state for better wages and benefits, and file grievances. Neither bill allows the workers to strike.

Minnesota

In Minnesota, approximately 12,000 PCAs working in consumer-directed settings will be given the right to unionize.

The unionization bill narrowly cleared the House on May 20 following three separate floor debates. It had passed the state Senate on May 15 after a 17-hour-long debate.

Supporters of the bill hope that unionization will help to reverse a trend of declining wages for Minnesota’s PCAs. In 2011, the state cut PCA wages by 1.5 percent.

PCAs who care for family members briefly had their wages slashed by 20 percent in 2011, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided late last year that the pay reduction was unconstitutional.

Supporters also say that the ability to form a union will help close a growing “care gap” in Minnesota. 

In an editorial published by the Grand Forks Herald on May 16 — between the House and Senate votes — PCAs Vicki Dewald and Karen Urman wrote:

If we don’t do something soon to ensure there are enough workers to let people stay in their homes, the state will have to foot the bill for thousands of Baby Boomers entering nursing homes…. We believe strongly that this bill would give workers and those we care for a voice.

A 2012 PHI report found that the state needs an additional 53,000 home care workers over the next decade in order to sufficiently care for its rising elder population.

Vermont

Meanwhile, the Vermont unionization bill overwhelmingly passed through the state legislature.

The House passed the bill by a 95-41 vote on May 2. The vote in the Senate, which was held in March, was nearly unanimous.

The bill would affect approximately 6,000 workers who provide care through the state’s Choice for Care Medicaid waiver program, the Attendant Services Program, and other home and community-based programs that are funded largely by Medicaid.

Additionally, the bill would require the state to establish a Direct Support Provider Workforce Council, which would advise the state on various workforce-related matters, such as recruitment, retention, and training.

The state would also have to set up a registry allowing eligible Vermonters to connect with qualified home care workers.

— by Matthew Ozga

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