Many MN, MD, VT Home Care Workers Appear Undeterred by Harris v. Quinn

Minnesota home care workers fought long and hard for representative rights.

The precedent set by the Supreme Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn is having immediate impact in states such as Minnesota, Vermont, and Maryland where home care workers recently won the right to organize and bargain collectively.  

Home health care workers in Minnesota and Maryland are considered “partial-public employees,” and given the Harris finding that these types of employees can not be required to pay union fees that go towards collective bargaining, their hard fought win for representation has lost its teeth.  

In Minnesota, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the state has urged state lawyers to stand down and cancel a pair of organizing drives at home-based day cares.  The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are the two unions who have taken the initial steps to organize the home-based day care and personal care attendants.   

Workers remain clearly fired up. In a statement released through SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, home care worker Sumer Spika said: “This ruling will not stop the home care workers in Minnesota who are joining together to form a union to raise our wages, have a voice on the job and improve conditions in the health care field.”

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has also spoken out against the Supreme Court’s decision. “By a 5-4 vote the court has voted to roll back the cause of civil rights in America,” Dayton said in a release.  ”For decades the right to organize has been an accepted mainstream principle in American society. If people can’t vote for themselves to decide if they want to join a union or not, that’s just not democracy.”

Not surprisingly, all four Republicans vying to challenge Dayton in the November election support the Supreme Court’s ruling and used Harris as a launching pad to question the incumbent’s alliance with the workers.  Businessman Scott Honour claimed that Dayton was “working at the behest of union bosses” while Scott Honour claimed the backing of bargainign was “naked political playback” to Dayton’s supporters in labor. Sadly for the naysayers, latest polls show Dayton with a double digit lead over each Republican challenger.

A similar scenario is also playing out in Maryland, one of nine states to have allowed home care workers to unionize.  The state says it will now review its CBA while trying to keep the current system “as much intact as possible.”  Workers covered under the union’s CBA were required to pay fees towards the CBA even if they chose not to join the union, similar to an arrangement reached in Illinois.  Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley remains steadfast in his defense of the state’s system:

“Maryland has derived enormous benefit from our home-care system, which includes collective bargaining,” O’Malley said. “Our system enables the state to accomplish important goals — like ensuring an adequate and well-training home-care workforce — and exclusive representation and fair-share fees play an important role in a fair and effective collective bargaining system.”

Vermont’s recently passed law is also likely to be scrutinized as contracts similar to those in Illinois may be invalidated by the Harris decision.  Representatives of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), who organized home care workers in the Green Mountain State, said they will continue to move forward despite the ruling:

“The rights of these folks to decide to form a union is not in question. So they’re moving on with that.”

Frankly, the decision by the Supreme Court to disallow requirement of dues does not mean everybody who has the chance to free-ride will do so. Speaking to the Valley News, one Vermont organizer dismissed the ruling, suggesting people will do the right thing when given the choice:

Audra Rondeau, a home health care worker from Enosburgh and a member of the collective bargaining unit for Vermont Homecare United, represented by AFSCME, said she didn’t think Monday’s Supreme Court decision posed a problem for the fledgling group.

“I think once people see the improvements, they’re going to sign on,” Rondeau said, even though constituents technically could benefit from collective bargaining without paying for it.
Rondeau said the unit already has set up classes for skills training and professional development throughout the year, in addition to the hourly wage raises they’ve negotiated.

“The fair share (ruling) is disappointing,” Rondeau said. “People set their priorities and if this is something people believe, they are going to sign on. I’m really not concerned.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders issued a statement after the ruling calling it “another attack on the rights of workers to collectively bargain for higher wages and decent benefits.”

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