Future of New Minnesota Home Care Union in Jeopardy

A new union for thousands of home health aides in Minnesota is under fire as federal appeals judges in two separate cases consider disbanding the unit, which already has negotiated benefits and working conditions for its members.

Two 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panels debated last week whether they have the power to disband the union for home care employees. Union opponents argue that the Service Employees International Union shouldn’t have been allowed to assemble 27,000 workers who aren’t full-fledged public employees, but given that the voluntary nature of the union and that workers aren’t obligated to join or pay dues, judges in both cases were unsure of what action they could take.

Though home health aides are paid using public health care money, that’s not reason enough to make them eligible for unionization, argued William Messenger, an attorney with the National Right to Work Legal Foundation.

“Where do you draw the line? Where does it end,” he asked. “If exclusive representation is not confined to true employees, where does it end?”

Meanwhile, those in favor of the union insisted that the law enabling the labor unit was appropriately passed by state lawmakers a few years back. Solicitor General Alan Gilbert said the distinction between Minnesota’s law and a home-care union arrangement in Illinois that was ruled unconstitutional is that participation and dues aren’t mandatory.

“They have not shown that they are harmed by this particular contract,” Gilbert said of the nine home care workers who brought one of the challenges to the Minnesota union law.

Losing the union could cost home care aides involved security they’ve gained through it, said Cortney Phillips, a home care worker from the St. Cloud area.

“We still have a very long way to go to give home care the value it deserves,” she said. “The union is ready to help us do that.”

Court decisions on the cases are likely months off, the Associated Press reports.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt