By: James B. Sherman, Esq.
By the narrowest of margins (2 votes) the Minnesota legislature voted to give certain in-home child-care providers and personal care attendants (PCAs) the right to unionize. This comes at a time when nearby states are curbing organized labor's clout. For example, last year Wisconsin eliminated union rights to bargain over wages, etc. in public schools and most other public sector jobs, and Indiana and Michigan passed "Right-To-Work" legislation, where union membership cannot be made a mandatory condition of employment. By contrast, the new Minnesota law stands to benefit two labor unions that lobbied aggressively for its passage. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), is organizing the in-home child-care providers and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is seeking to represent the in-home PCAs. As with most hotly contested political issues, opinions on the impact of this legislation depends on who is talking.
The unions and their supporters say the new law merely allows eligible child-care and personal care attendants the option to vote on whether or not they want a union. Of course they also claim that union representation will translate into higher pay, greater benefits and training (which they equate with improving quality of care). Left unanswered is a question all too often ignored in politics these days: Who will pay for all this, including the dues these unions will undoubtedly charge? The providers of these critical in-home services will have no choice but to raise their rates and the state, with tax dollars, will have to pick up the tab.
Opponents of this law are left to lick fresh wounds. They argued, obviously unsuccessfully, that passage of this bill was tantamount to the DFL-controlled Minnesota legislature simply repaying AFSCME and the SEIU for making significant campaign contributions to help elect a DFL majority. With an estimated 21,000 in-home child-care and personal care attendants now open for organizing, the union dues they would be charged could bring in millions per year in new revenues for these two unions. Because these union revenues would come, albeit indirectly, from tax payers to cover the necessary price hikes providers must charge, opponents see this new law as diverting public monies to unions as a payback for help in last year's elections.
Perhaps lost in all the political rhetoric is the fact that this legislation goes beyond simply allowing people a choice. Anyone who knows how union organizing really works knows that union elections are a far cry from "just letting people vote for or against a union." As with any union vote, all the union needs to win are a majority of those who show up to vote. For example, if only 1,000 of the estimated 21,000 eligible voters actually vote, the unions would need only 501 votes in their favor to win. What's more - and few people, including the care providers themselves, realize this - if the unions win, they win representational status for all 21,000 individuals, including those who choose not to vote and those who vote against the union!