This Labor Day is the first day many of the roughly 27,000 home health care workers in Minnesota will receive holiday pay as a direct result of their union’s second contract with the state, which took effect July 1.
In addition to gaining time-and-a-half pay for five holidays each year, the new contract also raises the minimum wage for these workers to $12 an hour, increases the amount of paid time off they can accrue, expands their paid training opportunities and outlines the further development of an online registry where clients who receive support services can connect with care providers.
“This [Labor Day] is the first time ever that I can remember being paid time-and-a-half for working on a holiday as a PCA,” said Dawn Burnfin of Chisholm, Minn. She has worked as a home health care worker for about 23 years and served on the bargaining team for the new two-year contract.
As a longtime worker in the home health care industry, Burnfin is no stranger to the challenges of the job, which often include working holidays for clients who depend on day-to-day specialized care. “They wouldn’t be able get out of bed and get something to eat if we weren’t there,” she said. “You can’t just not be there for the people that need you.”
Another challenge Burnfin said she faced as a PCA was when her employment agency lowered her hourly wage for entire pay periods when she worked overtime. She noted that in instances like these, when she is faced with paycheck disputes, her union can point her in the right direction to find resolution. She has since reported this claim to the U.S. Department of Labor. Last year, Workday Minnesota investigated the prevalence of wage theft in the state’s home health care industry, and found one 2013 case of 33 employees who were shorted $94,783.64 in overtime pay.
Among the progress SEIU Healthcare Minnesota has made for home health care workers in the past two years, Burnfin stated that one of the most significant to her personal life has been the paid time off and the online registry.
Before joining her union, she recalled how difficult the decision was to miss work, knowing if she did that it would be harder to make ends meet for her family and difficult for her clients to find another PCA in rural Minnesota.
“Now, my client can find someone to cover if I need to take off to be with my husband who is having surgery…and I can use that paid time off that I’ve accrued to not miss a mortgage payment or have my utilities shut off,” she said.
Under the new contract, she is now earning one hour of paid time off for every 43 hours she works.
While Burnfin and other home health workers have been pleased with the strides they have made in the past three years, they also believe more could be done. Ever since the state cut the contract funding in half and SEIU members had to make changes to their tentative agreement from early 2017, Burnfin noted the desire to regain what they had lost.
“We’re not giving up. We are going to continue working on what we were promised by the legislature, what our clients deserve, what we as workers deserve,” she said.