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Home care workers should be allowed to form a union

sumer and jayla
Courtesy of the author
The author with Jayla

I am proud to be a home care worker for a 6-year-old little girl named Jayla. Jayla was born with a genetic disorder called Opitz syndrome, has pulmonary hypertension and is deaf. She requires breathing treatments, thickened liquids, help eating, toileting, and help doing many other activities of daily living.  

When I first started as a home care worker, I was offered benefits like health insurance and vacation time. But over the past four years, my pay has been cut, my vacation time taken away, and the health insurance we are offered is minimal.

No longer the option of taking a day off

Now I don't have the option of taking a day off because I can’t afford to lose out on the money. I recently gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and because I have no vacation time I was only able to take one week off of work after I had a C-section. 

I have a strong desire to care for others and know that providing care for someone in their home gives the person a sense of independence and dignity, as well additional comfort to be in their own environment. 

I feel very strongly about helping care for Jayla and maintaining the relationship that we have. I have sacrificed financial stability, I live paycheck to paycheck, and I have sacrificed health insurance for my family at times, all because I love caring for Jayla.    

We deserve the same right as other workers

I am working with SEIU to create a statewide Home Care Workers Union because I believe we should not accept the way things are. Home care workers deserve the same right as other workers to form a union, and right now, we don’t have that right under the law.  

I believe that as a society and a community we should care for both young and old, and that we should not only value the ones we care for but also the ones who care for them.

The work I do helps keep Jayla in her home, rather than in a more expensive institution, which saves the state money. Allowing workers the right to form a union would help treat everyone fairly while making smart decisions for a better future.  

Sumer Spika, of St. Paul, provides home health care.

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Comments (6)

A devil's advocate question

I support the formation of unions and of any cooperative efforts to improves compensation, benefits, lives and working conditions. But a lot of people say that home care workers are not really "employees" but "independent contractors", i.e. self employed individuals, who really have no one to organize against. Is there a case for collective action to require other independents such as yourself to belong to an organization, i.e. a union, that would be a more or less "closed shop", i.e. making membership in the association a condition of the employment?

The Plight of "Home Care" Workers and Their Clients

is that such workers are part of a special class of workers, a class of workers created years ago, called "companions" to whom minimum wage and other labor protections don't apply.

These folks, who are increasingly being used to care for vulnerable elderly, disabled, and special needs folks in their own homes (rather than moving those folks out of their homes to nursing homes and other such facilities),...

who often daily hold the lives of others in their hands, for low pay and without benefits of any kind, need and deserve the most basic protections that ALL the rest of us enjoy in this country.

The effort to organize into unions is aimed in that direction. These folks, primarily would be organizing to argue that labor and minimum wage laws should be applied to them and that federal and state reimbursements should be increased to cover at least a minimally decent standard of living for the folks who do this work.

The effort to prevent such organization is aimed at keeping elderly, disabled, and special needs folks in their own homes where they, themselves, remain invisible (aside from the occasional tragic event) and even the most deplorable conditions of neglect and negligence,...

the natural result of state and federal reimbursement rates which necessitate using the very lowest-respect, lowest-wage, least-qualified caregivers, can remain hidden.

If such folks were placed, instead, in centralized nursing facilities, such neglect and negligence would be obvious and change would be demanded and inadequate facilities closed or changed.

The fight against unionization of home care workers is a fight to preserve the wealth of the wealthy by continuing conditions which guarantee neglect, negligence, and even abuse of those most vulnerable and in need.

But sadly, I fear the knee-jerk, vehement hatred of all things "union" on the part of some of our fellow citizens means they are unable to care about the on-the-ground, personal (unintended, but very predictable) damage caused by that irrational bias.

yes, to unionization

Homecare workers should be allowed to form a union, as long as they don't force others to join who don't want to, or deduct union dues from their paychecks without their consent.

So you advocate freeloading?

If people don't want to pay Union dues then they should not accept any benefits that the union has negotiated for their members. Non-members should be required to negotiate their own Pay, Leave time and medical benefits with their employers. I know that Conservatives are all for personal responsibility so that shouldn't be a problem, right?

Of course they should

Of course they should be able to form unions. Young people today, in the quest for mega wealth, fail to see how unions got their parents to a place of being able to pay for the kids' education, which is now considered parental responsibility since the push to full capitalization began. That said, our ongoing failure to address reproduction as an issue, and our continuing commitment to personal wealth over social cohesion means that resources for support of the needful are drying up, or rather, finding their way into already stuffed pockets. Saving the lives of individuals who will be dependent for their entire lifetime is noble, but in the nation some of us have chosen to have, there are really no consequential resources avaliable for aid.These resources belong to those with the guts and acumen to wrest them from the marketplace, and too bad for the rest. Gotta love the price of our illusiory freedom.

What law...

What law is stopping home care workers from being able to form a union? If anyone wants to unionize they can, that's constitutionally protected under the right of association. That's a private contract that is between you (and your co-workers in the union) and your employer though, any employer can make their place a closed shop if they chose to.

Of course, I believe the opposite as well, that forcing someone into a union that doesn't want to be violates their constitutional rights of freedom of association (if you force it, it's not freedom) and I believe a business owner can choose not to negotiate with a union if they want.

I'm still curious at what the law in question is though.