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VICKI DEWALD and KAREN URMAN: Unionized PCAs can help fill 'care gap'

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- We read with confusion the column by Kristin Novotny and Anne Ripka ("Who benefits from personal care attendants' unionization? Not PCAs," Page A4, May 11).

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- We read with confusion the column by Kristin Novotny and Anne Ripka ("Who benefits from personal care attendants' unionization? Not PCAs," Page A4, May 11).

As personal care attendants ourselves, we have been involved in the effort to pass legislation giving us the right to choose for ourselves whether we want to join a union.

PCAs and other home care workers take care of our elders and those living with a disability all across the state. We help these people live independently in their homes and communities, rather than be forced to choose to move into a nursing home or other more expensive institution.

We do not get "stipends" from the state. Rather, the state sets the reimbursement rates for us and provides the funding for our wages. We get paychecks for the real work we do, not a stipend.

In this sense, the state is our employer. Legislators fund our wages and our benefits, of which most of us are afforded none. No sick leave, no vacation, no health insurance. We have lobbied individually without success for years to get additional funding for our program and increase our wages.


In 2011, the Legislature voted to decrease our pay by 1.5 percent, even though we only make an average of $10 per hour.

The Legislature also voted to cut pay for those of us caring for relatives by 20 percent, using the argument that people should not be "paid to care for a family member." In December, the Minnesota Court of Appeals found it unconstitutional to pay workers differently for doing the same work as others.

Those of us who care for a family member actually have an even stronger desire to form a union. Family PCAs often give up middle-class careers with good pay and benefits to be the PCA for a child, parent, grandparent or sibling. We may work part-time or full-time while still balancing one or two other jobs to make ends meet.

We do this because the person we care for chose us rather than a stranger to be his or her PCA. The state sets the parameters for our wages and benefits, but the person we provide care for is our employer when it comes to hiring and training us, directing their services and if necessary, firing us.

We do not work for agencies -- in fact, PCAs who work under the control of an agency already have the right to form a union under federal law.

But those of us who work directly for those we care for do not have the right to form a union.

HF 950/SF 778 does not impose a union on us. Rather, it lets us -- the workers -- vote on whether we want to form a union. There is nothing more democratic than letting us decide for ourselves.

Negotiations wouldn't just be about rates. They'd be about access to health insurance, paid time off, training opportunities and better access to services for the people who need them.


We have seen this happen in several other states where workers have won this right to form a union.

In San Francisco, turnover fell by 30 percent while the supply of workers increased by 54 percent. In four states, workers in a union were able to negotiate for better wages, health insurance and paid time off. This improved the quality and competitiveness of the job, reducing turnover and stabilizing the workforce.

In January, a report showed that Minnesota faces a care gap of thousands of home care workers over the next decade, unless we do something to stabilize our home care workforce. Story after story on the news reports that 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.

On behalf of the hundreds of PCAs who have been involved in this effort at the Capitol, we believe strongly that this bill would give workers and those we care for a voice.

This bill simply lets us choose for ourselves. We want a union, and we want the chance to vote for one.

Dewald is a home care worker for her grandson, Elias, who has autism. She lives in Detroit Lakes.

Urman is a home care worker for her adult son, Ziggy, who was born with spina bifida. They live in Mounds View, Minn.

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