Court Gives Green Light to Polarizing Home Care Union

A federal appeals court panel has decided not to overturn a new union for thousands of home care aides in Minnesota. The ruling has garnered approval from the workers who have unionized, but opposition from those who say the union threatens right to work principles.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday ruled in one of two legal challenges to the unionization, the Associated Press reported. In doing so, the panel upheld a lower court’s decision that workers can in fact form a union and assess fees on those who voluntarily join.

Union opponents have long been arguing that the Service Employees International Union shouldn’t be allowed to assemble 27,000 workers who aren’t necessarily full-fledged public employees, but given the voluntary nature of the union and that workers aren’t obligated to join or pay dues, judges in both cases have been unsure of what action they could take.

Meanwhile, supporters of the union have argued that it has the potential to stabilize the home care industry, which is characterized by high staff turnover. In fact, in January, union members reached a contract with the state that guarantees a minimum $11 hourly wage and funding for paid time off.

“Our work, done predominantly by women and people of color, has been undervalued for far too long,” SEIU Healthcare Minnesota’s vice president Sumer Spika said in a prepared statement. “With our union, we are beginning to fight back and ensure that workers and the people we serve have a voice, and we won’t let any lawsuit stop us.”

The ruling Thursday means the union doesn’t violate pre-existing contracts that care workers have with clients who pay using Medicaid money, the appellate judges said. Plaintiffs in the case intend to explore their appeal options, attorney Doug Seaton told the AP.

“We think we are correct, and the court is mistaken,” he said.

The second case, involving First Amendment association rights of home care workers, hasn’t yet been decided, according to the AP.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt