Do Home Care Workers Really Rely on Unions?

Ai-Jen Poo has made the case that home care workers benefit from union representation:

Many home care workers…earn poverty wages with a median annual pay of less than $21,000. They often work long hours, perform hard physical labor, and have little to no benefits that allow them to plan and save for their own future and potential long-term care needs. Working in the shadows like this…vulnerable to exploitation, are exactly when unions are so important.

Home care unions first came into existence in Illinois after an election in which a small number of care providers actually voted for unionization. SEIU’s success in absorbing home care workers has “catapulted home care workers out of the depths of poverty and reinvented the American labor movement.”

That’s one perspective. Let’s get another one. Listen to what actual home care workers have to say about their Big Labor buddies:

Vermont child care providers lament that,

Since the first child care union was formed in 2005, unions have siphoned tens of millions of dollars from the child care assistance programs, even as many of those programs faced funding reductions.

They also say that, “A large portion of union dues go out of state to the National Union and many of these dollars are not even used for child care unions.”

Minnesota child care providers also have plenty to say in protest:

We are all independent, self-employed, small business owners. We set our own rates, hours, policies, vacation days, sick days, working conditions, etc…Employers are not allowed to unionize as it violates federal labor and anti-trust laws…People cannot be both independent business owners and state employees.

Not only do home care worker unions siphon off money that would go to patient care, home care worker unions are clearly illegal and impractical, as the Minnesota child care website astutely explained.

Another website devoted to resisting the unionization of home care workers makes a great point about the impracticality of home care unions:

Unionization of childcare providers makes no sense – it simply does not fit the union model of having a single employer who negotiates with many employees. Home childcare providers operate their own businesses – who will the unions be negotiating with?

On top of being impractical and illegal, home care unionization often happens thanks to clandestine organizing efforts and misinformation. The dreaded card check election tactic has reemerged with union representatives getting home care workers to sign cards that the representatives claimed would only be used to get more information to the signers when, in fact, anyone who signed the cards was voting for union representation.

Another website devoted to keeping unions out of home care (there seems to be a lot of them) explains how many local child care providers are banding together to resist union “representation.” One of these groups, Vermonters for the Independence of Child Care Professionals, disputes claims that unions would be beneficial to home care workers by pointing out that, in the 15 states where home care workers are unionized, less than 5 percent of unionized providers have any form of health insurance. (Health care was one of SEIU’s promises to home care workers.)

Given these broken promises, questionable motivations, and clandestine organizing efforts, many home care workers leave their unions as soon as they are given the chance. Ivan Osorio describes such a departure in Michigan: “..when they could finally exit, they did…SEIU Healthcare Michigan’s membership dropped from 55,000 in 2012 to under 11,000 the next year.” Statistics like that make one wonder how union membership would fare if there was no such thing as union association as a condition of employment.

Despite the resistance, unions have made progress in absorbing hard-working home care workers, often with disastrous and shameful results. Trey Kovacs says,

…SEIU union boss Tyrone Freeman…recently was found guilty of 14 counts of embezzlement…the low-wage caregivers also sued Freeman – who made $200,000 per year – demanding restitution of more than $1.1 million in dues money he reportedly on high-end liquor, parties and expenses from his Hawaii wedding in 2006.

Needless to say, I’m unconvinced by Poo’s assertion that home care workers “rely on unions.”