Personal care attendants trying to decertify union

More than two years after the battle to unionize personal care attendants, many of the personal care attendants (PCA’s) who fall under Service Employees International Union representation are organizing to decertify the union.

“I really did not want to represented by the union,” said Catherine Hunter.

Hunter cares for her 19-year-old son Drew and her 11-year-old son Dylan, who both require attention for their disabilities.  Under Medicaid rules, Hunter is paid to care for them under a program called PCA Choice.  The program was created years ago to allow people with disabilities to receive in-home care rather than be institutionalized. 

“As a taxpayer, I find it reprehensible that the legislature would allow the SEIU to skim union dues off of this program,” said Hunter 

SEIU rules call for PCA members to pay three percent dues from their salaries.  The union argues none of the dues money comes out of the Medicaid funds.

But opponents of the unionization, especially Kim Crockett of the Center of the American Experiment, argue that there is no accountability for the dues money.

“The SEUI is taking in $4.7 million in annual revenue from the PCA program, about a thousand dollars a year from people making about $12 to 14 an hour,” said Crockett at a news conference.

The PCA’s opposing representation need 30 percent of the membership to vote to begin the decertification process.  The problem is, there is no solid membership data to know what that 30 percent threshold is.  

The MNPCA organization, which is organizing the decertification vote, says it has not gotten accurate information from the Department of Human Services and as of Wednesday has filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County Court.

The deadline to achieve the 30 percent vote is December 1, leaving little time to reach all union members.  MNPCA’s attorney Doug Seaton believes the Department of Human Services is deliberately not providing the union list it needs. 

“And we think what is intended here is that we be stalled until it is too late to get the showing we need,” said Seaton.

An SEIU spokesman says the union faced the same issues when it tried to certify several years ago.  Because of the low pay and transient nature of PCA’s, the list of people serving as attendants is constantly changing.

But many PCA’s who helped form the union are still supporting its mission.

“This has been life changing for my family,” said Sumer Spika.

Spika currently works as a PCA caring for three clients.  Her husband also receives PCA care for his progressing multiple sclerosis.

“Not only has it been giving us a voice as a homecare workers, but, for me it’s fighting to insure my loved one’s who need home care get that care when they need it and that it’s quality care,” said Spika.

For the moment she has the backing of Governor Mark Dayton. 

“They voted to establish a union and that was their right and there are people who are opposed to unions all over this state and trying to do anything possible to defeat unions, prevent unions, decertify unions, so this is another one of those right wing efforts and we’ll have to see what becomes of it,” said Dayton.

Spika believes the union was and still is needed.

“And if we don’t professionalize this job and make it better, people aren’t going to want to do it,” said Spika. “And then we’re leaving people with disabilities and elderly people, again, without care.”