In what has been described as the largest union vote in state history, home health care workers in Minnesota have voted to unionize.
The workers, also referred to as personal care assistants, help the elderly and people with disabilities in their homes.
Of the 5,872 votes that were cast, 3,543, or 60 percent, were in favor of unionizing and 2,306 were opposed, according to results announced Tuesday by the Service Employees International Union. The union effort needed a simple majority of the votes to pass.
The workers will be represented by the SEIU, which will bargain with the state of Minnesota on wage and benefit issues.
Although only about 22 percent of the 27,000 eligible workers voted during the 25-day ballot period, union organizers called the outcome a great success at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, the Star Tribune reports.
"We now have a union. We are now not invisible anymore," said Debra Howze, a PCA from Minneapolis, according to MPR News.
PCAs typically earn low wages and have no benefits, and there's a high turnover rate for workers who care for non-family members.
“Workers deserve things like fair pay, better training and paid time off," said Rosemary Van Vickle, a home care worker from Crosby, saying that home care workers don't get the respect they deserve.
The unionization campaign has been going on for the past year or so, ever since the Legislature passed a law authorizing them to pursue collective bargaining.
One opponent, State Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, issued a statement questioning whether the vote was a true representation of how home care workers feel, since so few of them sent in a ballot.
“There are significant concerns about the conduct of this election given that barely one in 10 affected providers supported public sector unionization, but any regulations agreed to between the union and state could affect all care providers," Mack said.
The vote took place after a judge denied a request last week to stop it. Nine home health care workers had filed suit last month seeking to block the union vote, saying the law that authorized it was unconstitutional. The judge ruled that their lawsuit was premature. But now that the union election is over, that legal challenge will likely continue.
Not all home health workers will be covered by the union. It only applies to those who care for clients as part of certain government-subsidized programs within the state's Medical Assistance program, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
State subsidized child care providers were also covered by the 2013 law authorizing union votes and they, too, have a pending lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of such a vote.