One of the two unions seeking to represent Vermont’s 7,000 independent home care workers has pulled out of the race.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced its decision in a news release Wednesday saying, “SEIU believes withdrawal from this election is in the best interest of everyone involved.”
The decision averts a campaign between two national union powerhouses that was likely to have been fierce.
The withdrawal of SEIU means the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) will almost certainly earn the right to bargain with the state on behalf of the home care workers. The news release said SEIU would encourage its supporters to vote for AFSCME.
“We felt that AFSCME had a compelling message in that they already represent workers in Vermont, and any bad blood (generated by the campaign) could spill over,” said Matt McDonald, state director for the proposed local 1199SEIU.
Two weeks ago, the Vermont Labor Relations Board set a Sept. 9 election date.
Tim Noonan, executive director of the VLRB, said Wednesday that it is “possible” the election timing will stay on track. Under the July 17 agreement, ballots were to be postmarked by Sept. 27 and counted by Oct. 3, he said.
Ultimately, SEIU’s decision came down to whether the resources needed to compete in the election would be best used in Vermont and whether the inter-union conflict was worthwhile, McDonald said.
“The prospect of two unions fighting it out on the ground was too much of an event,” McDonald said. “It is a very expensive operation.”
McDonald also acknowledged that SEIU was unlikely to attain the 50-percent-plus-one votes needed to win on a first ballot attempt. AFSCME has maintained throughout the process that it had the support necessary for a first-ballot victory.
AFSCME spokeswoman Carolyn Klinglesmith said SEIU made “the right decision.”
“AFSCME applauds SEIU for recognizing the interests of Vermont homecare providers and we thank them for their support as we work toward building our union,” Klinglesmith said in a statement.
In an interview Klinglesmith said AFSCME was ready to get to the bargaining table with the state to address the needs that home care workers raised during the legislative process that led to a bill that passed last session allowing the workers to unionize.
“They want a livable wage, mileage reimbursement, benefits like health care … pretty much what any worker wants,” she said.
Klinglesmith said she had spoken with Noonan and expected the ballot, which would essentially read “do you desire to be represented by AFSCME or none,” to go out as scheduled.
The unions worked together to help pass S.59, giving the right to independent home care workers to pursue collective bargaining.
The workers, who provide in-home care to the elderly and people with disabilities, are paid with state Medicaid funds but are employed by their clients. Under the new law, workers can bargain with the state for subsidies and benefits if they decide to unionize.
AFSCME spent a little under $16,800 on lobbying last session, while SEIU spent $66,000.
This story was updated at 5:18 p.m.