Independent home care workers choose AFSCME for union representation

Vermont’s 7,500 independent home health care workers chose AFSCME Vermont Homecare United to represent them in collective bargaining in an election process that concluded Thursday.

An unofficial ballot count shows 1,412 workers (71.4 percent) voted to have AFSCME Vermont Homecare United as their union representative and 566 said no, according to Tim Noonan, executive director of the Vermont Labor Relations Board, which conducted the election. There were 23 spoiled ballots, Noonan said.

Noonan said the vote is not official until a 10-day period for objections has passed.

The union vote followed the passage of Act 148 in the last legislative session, which gave independent home care workers the right to organize to seek better benefits and working conditions. 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.

AFSCME and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) worked together to support the law and then battled to determine which organization would be chosen to represent the workers.

SEIU withdrew from the process in late July, citing a desire to avoid a showdown with AFSCME and admitting it might not have the votes to win.

AFSCME Vermont Homecare United will now form a bargaining committee and begin work on its demands for contract negotiations with the Shumlin administration, AFSCME spokeswoman Carolyn Klinglesmith said.

“We are sending out nomination forms immediately and expect to elect a team by mid-October,” Klinglesmith said.

She said the union is conducting a survey to determine which bargaining issues are most important to its members. She said during the election that members concerns included earning a livable wage, finding affordable health care and improving funding for programs that provide home care services.

Gov. Peter Shumlin congratulated AFSCME at a news conference Thursday and said he looks forward to talks over benefits for home care workers.

“These are folks who have been underpaid and do very tough work and actually improve the delivery of health care in Vermont,” Shumlin said. “I think this organization is long overdue, and I think they will be well-served.”

A similar proposal that would enable small, independent daycare providers to negotiate with the state has repeatedly failed to pass in the Legislature.

In a statement from Vermont Early Educators United, Kay Curtis who runs Happy Hands Daycare – Little People in Brattleboro said: “We congratulate homecare workers on voting overwhelmingly to form a union today. As a childcare provider, I hope that the legislature will respect our work as well and afford early educators this same right to organize. We know that when providers are organized, providers and the families they serve benefit greatly.”

Tom Brown

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  • 19% voted for AFSCME and all 7500—nearly 1 out of every 85 Vermonters—are now exclusively represented and on the hook for hundreds of dollars per year in union dues or agency fees. The state does not employ these workers (the person with the disability who directs the care is the real employer), they cannot strike, there is no grievance procedure. It’s a union with just enough power to exploit the 6000 folks who never consented to this, but with no real power to help them.

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