ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A bill that would allow home care workers to collectively bargain with the State moved forward Thursday evening in the Minnesota House.
Those aides, also referred to as personal care assistants, help persons with disabilities stay in their homes or other settings that are less restrictive than long-term care facilities.
"When they have a better quality of life, I have a better quality of life," Nikki Villavicencio told KARE.
Villavicencio, a disability rights activist who can often be spotted motoring around the Capitol Complex in her wheelchair, uses PCA's in order to live independently.
"They help me with getting up in the morning, help me shower, help me use the restroom, help me get food and get dressed," she explained.
The program has sustained budget cuts in the past, despite the fact that the home-based care is less expensive to the government than nursing homes.
"A union would allow people with disabilities to find higher quality workers, if those workers can actually have a living wage and hopefully some benefits."
Some of those workers are paid to take care of their adult relatives, also based on the premise that a home setting is less expensive to the state than a skilled nursing home.
"Those of us who do this work did not expect to be in this position, but we've risen to the occasion to make sure our loved ones are taken care of," Mark Kerwin told the House Human Services Committee Thursday.
"That's why I think it's important we have an organized voice.
Kerwin gave up a full-time job to care for his wife, who has multiple sclerosis. She move into a nursing home a half hour away when their two sons were ages six and nine.
That's when he decided to join the ranks of home care workers, so his wife could come home. Now Kerwin is among those supporting the effort to allow direct care workers to organize under the auspices of SEIU, the Service Employees International Union.
People like Kerwin would like to collectively bargain with the Dept. of Human Services for better pay and benefits. But, unlike others who negotiate contracts with the state, the home care workers are not government employees.
They work for home health agencies that receive state funding to provide those services to people who qualify for them.
The home care bill has been combined with a more controversial piece of legislation, a bill allow home based child care providers to collectively bargain with the state.
Those providers who contract with parents who qualify for CCAP, or Child Care Assistance Program, would be allowed to vote on organizing as a bargaining unit.
"This bill does not form or create a union," Rep. Bill Nelson, a Brooklyn Center Democrat told his colleagues.
"It allows people who want to do that to try and attempt to do that, but it doesn't form a union."
Nelson's bill specifies that the child care providers and home care workers taking care of persons with disabilities would not be allowed to strike.
"They are basically essential service people, like police and firefighters, who can't strike either," Rep. Tom Huntley, the Human Services Committee chair, told KARE.
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