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Clients join union care workers seeking higher pay, better training

ST. PAUL -- Unionized home care attendants want the state to increase their base pay to $15 an hour and fund for more training, even as some of their colleague seek to disband the union.

ST. PAUL -- Unionized home care attendants want the state to increase their base pay to $15 an hour and fund for more training, even as some of their colleague seek to disband the union.

Contract talks with the state begin Friday, Sept. 30. Workers and their clients told reporters on Wednesday that the improvements are needed to stop a home care crisis.

"People with disabilities are not receiving all of the care they need," Corey Van Denburgh said. "Our loved ones’ health is being put at risk."

Base pay was set at $11 an hour in the first union contract two years ago, although some workers are paid $17. Van Denburgh and others said that is not enough.

Home care client Nikki Villiavicencio said home care workers also need to be paid overtime, which has not been funded, and be provided more free training, such as for first aid.

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Home care workers voted in 2014 to join the Service Employees International Union, which had organized the election authorized by a law approved a year earlier. Over strong Republican opposition, Democrats passed the measure to give workers the right to unionize for the first time.

About 20,000 home care workers belong to the union. An estimated 7,000 others did not join.

Some workers are trying to get a new election to get rid of union representation. They must turn in 9,000 signatures by Dec. 2.

The leader of the anti-union campaign said in July that the union has not helped personal care attendants, but has taken their money.

"They’re taking advantage of us, and it’s just not right,” said Kris Greene, a Lakeville worker who cares for her special needs daughter.

Those who met with reporters Wednesday, however, said the union has helped and they expect more help as negotiations resume.

There is a shortage of home care workers, Villiavicencio said, and without a better contract enough may leave the business that clients might not be able to continue living at home.

Jasmine Laducer-Kitto said she has been a home health care worker 11 years, helping Scott, who needs aid eight to 12 hours a day. While she considers her client to be like family, she wondered if she can continue to work for low wages.

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"I ask myself, 'How long do I sacrifice my self worth?' ... It is not OK; this has to stop," she said.

Jay Spiaka, who has multiple sclerosis and other medical conditions, struggled as he told reporters that walking and talking are difficult, and he expects to get worse. Having a home care worker, he said, "has changed my family's life."

Darrell Paulsen invited lawmakers to act as a home care worker for him so they can get an idea of what it is like.

"I want them to feel those struggles, even if it is for just a few minutes," Paulsen said.

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