Minnesota health care workers beat down right wing court challenge

MINNEAPOLIS – Some 26,000 Minnesota home health care workers seeking union representation survived a court challenge from radical right wing opponents and are looking forward to ballots being counted on August 26.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis of Minneapolis refused on August 20 a request by the National Right to Work Foundation that he issue an injunction to halt the vote, which is taking place by U.S. mail.

If the Service Employees, who are campaigning to organize the home health care workers, win, it would be the largest union election and organizing victory in Minnesota history and one of the largest by any union in the U.S. in the last several years.

Which is why the venal business-backed anti-worker right to work crowd recruited nine dissident home care workers to challenge the vote. They argued that union representation would violate their 1st Amendment free speech rights.

In his ruling, Davis called the request “premature.” The Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services mailed ballots on August 1 to 26,000 eligible voters. They are defined as “personal care assistants and other home care workers providing direct support services through client-directed Medicaid programs including PCA Choice, Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS), and Consumer Support Grants.”

If a majority of those voting choose to unionize, they will be represented by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, which currently is the union for more than 15,000 healthcare workers in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes throughout Minnesota. That union, in turn, is part of SEIU, which has 1.2 million members in the health care industry nationwide.

The nine home health care workers backed by the Right to Work Foundation sued on July 28. They wanted Davis to issue an injunction to stop the union vote.

They said their First Amendment rights were being violated. Davis disagreed, saying “Home-care providers have the right to vote in the current election to determine whether a majority desire SEIU to be their exclusive representative.”

In the court hearing, the day before his ruling, Davis was even more skeptical of the Right to Work Foundation’s arguments. Choosing the SEIU “doesn’t block your clients from shouting from the rooftops” about their differences with the union, Davis told the foundation’s attorney, William Messenger.

Davis pointed out anti-union workers would not have to pay dues to SEIU. That’s thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling the Right to Work crowd won against Illinois’ law saying home health care workers represented by SEIU there – or anywhere else – did not have to pay dues, or even “fair share” fees for non-members, to cover costs of negotiations and contract administration. The justices used the same free speech justification to toss the Illinois law.

If SEIU is certified as the workers’ representative, the Right to Work Foundation may renew its court challenge, the judge said.

There is some question, however, whether the plaintiffs would have standing to bring a challenge. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Harris v. Quinn ruling, SEIU announced it would not seek to collect dues from home health care workers in Minnesota who choose not to become members.

Absent a requirement to pay dues, it may be difficult for any of the non-member workers to show they have been harmed.

Union supporters are elated the vote is proceeding.

Darleen Henry, a home health care worker in Rosemount, called the ruling “a big win” because the unionization effort will enhance care for people with disabilities by improving pay and working conditions and reducing turnover.

Photo: SEIU Healthcare Minnesota Facebook page.




Barb Kucera
Barb Kucera

Barb Kucera was editor of Workday Minnesota. She served for 6 years as director of the Labor Education Service, which publishes Workday. Kucera has degrees in journalism and industrial relations and a background in communications, including as editor of The Union Advocate. She is an associate member of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild/CWA Local 37002.