The competition to represent about 7,000 Vermont home care workers is on, and the gloves are off.
After working together to secure passage of S.59, two unions are now officially vying to become the collective bargaining arm for independent direct support providers.
The workers, who provide in-home care to the elderly and people with disabilities, are paid with state Medicaid funds but employed by their clients. Under the new law, workers can bargain with the state for subsidies and benefits if they decide to unionize.
One of the unions, 1199SEIU, which calls itself New England’s Homecare Union, submitted Tuesday to the Vermont Labor Relations Board what it said was more than 2,000 “showing of interest” cards signed by Vermont home care providers.
SEIU’s opponent, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Vermont Homecare United, said it submitted about 4,500 such cards May 29 and has accused the Service Employees International Union of stalling the election in an effort to build more support.
The two sides will next meet with the VLRB in a pre-election or “stipulation” hearing to iron out their differences. The board will then set the election and mail ballots to eligible providers. Tim Noonan, executive director of the board, is out of town until Monday. It would likely be at least mid-July until the pre-election meeting could be held, both unions said.
Several dozen purple-clad supporters of SEIU’s bid from Vermont, California, New York, Illinois, Minnesota and elsewhere held a rally Tuesday at the Statehouse to sing SEIU’s praises and to criticize AFSCME.
“1199SEIU is the union that puts home care first and it is the only choice with a proven track record of representing home health care workers,” said Danielle Warner of Northfield, who said she has been a Vermont home care worker for nine years.
“I met with the other union and did my homework,” Warner said of AFSCME. “They think they can bring a union officer from California and an organizing director from Kentucky and fill the Residence Inn in Colchester with out-of-state organizers and tell Vermonters they speak for Vermont. They don’t.”
The SEIU participants also signed a card and presented it to Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, for his help in passing the bill. Campbell said he didn’t have a preference in the union vote.
A spokesman for AFSCME questioned the timing of SEIU’s petition to be added to the ballot and even the number of signatures it submitted.
“If they had these signatures, why did they wait for the last day to file?” asked AFSCME spokeswoman Carolyn Klinglesmith. “If you are behind, you delay.”
SEIU insists that it is merely trying to ensure that all eligible home care providers receive a ballot. Matt McDonald, Vermont campaign director for SEIU, has said that mailing lists are not always accurate. Among his concerns is the non-traditional nature of this election.
“Any discussion that doesn’t consider that this election doesn’t mirror every other election, doesn’t take into account the unique nature of these workers,” McDonald said, adding that he doesn’t see an election occurring until September or October.
AFSCME’s Klinglesmith said the union is “pushing as fast as it can” so that once the election is over there will be enough time for bargaining with the state over wages and benefits.
“If we can’t get to the bargaining table in time to be included in the governor’s budget, any raises for workers could be postponed for another year,” Klinglesmith said.
Because there will be three choices on the ballot – AFSCME, SEIU or no union – Klinglesmith said there is the possibility that a run-off election could be required if no option receives 50 percent plus one of the completed ballots. That would further delay bargaining, she said.
“There are five laws in Vermont that require union bargaining with the state, and this is the sixth,” she said. “The board created rules for this election exactly like the other five.”
Both sides are confident that they will prevail in the election.
“This (delay) will not affect the outcome,” Klinglesmith said. “We have 4,500 signatures and have been building a union in Vermont for three years.”
“We feel that when faced with a side-by-side choice, we will win,” McDonald said.
CORRECTION: We originally misidentified the woman speaking in the photo. She is Willow Emerson from Island Pond.