Union Organizes Home Health Workers in Minnesota

Published October 24, 2014

When the Service Employees International Union in Minnesota announced its victory in unionizing 27,000 home health care workers in August, it celebrated in a rapidly changing political environment.

Unions’ plans to bolster membership rolls by classifying home health care workers as state employees were dealt a blow in June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in Harris vs. Quinn unions could not collect dues from homecare workers who didn’t want to join or support a union.

Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, who helped end forced unionization of workers in Michigan in 2013, said the Supreme Court ruling means the home health care workers probably won’t have to pay dues to the SEIU in Minnesota.

“It is probably nothing more than a symbolic victory for the union,” Wright said.

Long-term strategy Ending?

Since the 1990s, unions have targeted homecare workers for unionization, in states such as California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington. Those plans are now hindered by the nation’s highest court having stripped the unions’ ability to demand dues from workers who don’t want to be members.

Minnesota was the latest state to succumb to the unions’ nationwide strategy.

In Michigan, the SEIU used home-based daycare workers to increase its membership count. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, recognized SEIU Healthcare Michigan in 2006 as the union representative of nearly 45,000 home health care workers who received state funding to care for others, typically family members. Largely unaware of the unionization vote, only about 20 percent of home health care workers in the state voted in the election to authorize SEIU Healthcare Michigan to represent them.

After Michigan enacted right-to-work legislation Michigan in 2012 ending forced unionization, the union’s membership dropped from 44,347 to 10,918 in one year. The union had collected an estimated $34 million in dues and fees from 2006 to 2013 from the workers before the state ended forced unionization.

“In both cases, you got employees who are not employees of the state but are reclassified as pseudo-state employees for the sole purpose of unionization,” said Jennifer Parrish, a Minnesota daycare provider and leader of the Coalition of Union Free Providers. “This is an area where for a while people didn’t realize it was going on. [The unions] were able to do it quietly behind closed doors.”

Forced Unionization Push Continues

Lee Adler, a law professor at Cornell University, notes many national observers believed the SEIU would slow down or alter its attempts to unionize home care workers after the Supreme Court decision. This assumption appears to have been incorrect, Adler said.

The SEIU in Minnesota still has another legal challenge to overcome involving home health care workers. Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, says his organization believes the Minnesota unionization violates the First Amendment.

“Our view is that while the SEIU should be free to represent and speak on behalf of voluntary SEIU members, it is a violation of homecare providers’ freedom of association to have the state impose a state-selected representative on homecare providers who don’t voluntarily support the union,” Semmens said.

Tom Gantert ([email protected]) writes for Michigan Capitol Confidential.