Push to Unionize Home Health Care Workers

Posted at: 12/12/2012 5:55 PM
Updated at: 12/12/2012 6:36 PM
By: Brianna Long

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- There's a push at the state capital Wednesday from some health care workers to become unionized. They cite low wages, and lack of benefits as the reason for the push.

Every day, Crystal Smith does chores like laundry and dishes. However, it's not at her own home. She works as a personal care assistant, or PCA, going in to homes of elderly, or disabled people to help them out.

"We do what we can to make sure it's safe for them and keep them in their environment instead of going into the nursing home. They need to be in the setting of their home," said Smith.

"I admire the PCA workers. They have very difficult work. They're compensation is modest and so most often PCA workers that do that work could probably work somewhere else and make more," said Jeff Severson, the administrator of CNS Home Health Care.

Those low wages are part of the reason some PCA workers were at the state capitol Wednesday, making their case to form a union.

"I think when they talk about unionizing it may confuse some people. Some may think its about trying to negotiate higher wages with the employer, but I think the real goal is to raise awareness with the state to make changes with the program," said Severson.

These workers are paid with Medicaid dollars at rates set by the state. A union could act as a lobbying group, to get more funding to the program. But not everyone thinks it's the right way to go about change.

"It's not going to fly. It's not going to work. A union is not for this industry," said Omar Hassan, the administrator of Roblund Home Health Care. He says the unique work of PCAs makes unionizing difficult.

"It's a different shift, different times, based on the needs of the patients and the service that they get to deliver. So anywhere from 30 minutes to 11 hours, 12 hours a day," said Hassan.

But for Smith, it's worth a shot.

"Then we can work together and make things better and safe for the client and it would be beneficial to all of us that we got somebody that's pushing and working hard for us" said Smith.

This is just the beginning of the process to join a union. The workers are talking with the Minnesota chapter of the service employees international union.