David v. Goliath: Personal care attendants stand up to the unions

David v. Goliath: Personal care attendants stand up to the unions
© Getty Images

Personal care attendants, or PCAs, in Minnesota are collecting cards for the largest decertification in labor law history. They have less than 30 days to prove that they want a new election on union representation.

This petition for an election comes after the discovery that at least eight states have a scheme in which unions deduct dues from Medicaid reimbursements to PCAs, who are usually family members taking care of individuals with disabilities.

ADVERTISEMENT

The PCA program allows individuals with disabilities to stay in their homes, rather than live in government institutions at far greater cost. In Minnesota, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, the unions take an estimated $150 million combined each year from these caretakers, totaling $1.4 billion since 2000.

On July 12, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, introduced a proposed rule to end dues-skimming, which will solve some of the problems in these states but could take years to finalize.

Minnesota PCAs, however, need an election to keep the Service Employees International Union from automatically withdrawing union dues from home health care workers. MNPCA, a group of Minnesota PCAs, is working to obtain sufficient new cards to file a petition for an election by Nov. 30.

The more than 10,000 signed cards that these PCAs delivered to Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in September 2017 have expired, largely because of roadblocks set by members of the Dayton administration, Democratic legislators, the unions and others.

On May 24, 2013, Gov. Dayton signed into law the Individual Providers of Direct Support Services Representation Act (S.F. 778). This law declared that PCAs are government employees, but only for collective bargaining purposes.

After the bill became law, the SEIU held an election and declared victory on Aug. 26, 2014. Yet only 13 percent of Minnesota PCAs voted in the election — 3,543 out of 5,872 voted for the union, while 2,306 were opposed. Most PCAs did not know about the election, and some didn’t receive ballots. The union then began collecting 3 percent of the PCAs’ gross pay (up to $948 a year) as dues.

When these PCAs and their supporters began contacting other PCAs about their decertification campaign, they discovered some addresses on the government’s PCA list were nonexistent, or the homeowners were not PCAs. In other cases, MNPCA was told that PCAs had not signed a card allowing dues deduction, even though dues were being deducted. Some PCAs said signatures on cards were not theirs.

Another roadblock were the Democratic members of Minnesota legislature who supported the union over the caregivers. After MNPCA announced that it was launching a decertification campaign, the SEIU and the Dayton administration announced they would begin contract negotiations early, about nine months before the contract was set to expire. The likely goal was for the state to complete a new contract before MNPCA called for an election. If this happened, MNPCA would have to end its campaign and wait two years before collecting new cards.

To finalize the contract, the union and state needed the approval of the Minnesota legislature. However, no House or Senate committee, including the subcommittee on employee relations, which reviews all state labor contracts, agreed to or ratified a contract. Some members of the legislature, such as Rep. Marion O’Neill and Sen. Michelle Benson, both Republicans, were against ratifying the contract after hearing MNPCA testimony at a May 8, 2017 hearing.

As a result, the 2017 Department of Human Services-related appropriations bill, which included the PCA program, did not reference a union contract. However, new language authorizing the administration to negotiate a contract — and pre-ratifying this nonexistent contract — was added to the bill after all the committee hearings. PCA members did not know about this language when Gov. Dayton signed the bill.

Simply collecting Medicaid does not make Minnesota caretakers state workers. Now, these PCAs have just over a month to defeat a powerful union and restore their program.

Olivia Grady is senior fellow of the nonprofit Center for Worker Freedom, a project of Americans for Tax Reform to educate the public about causes and consequences of unionization.