The Potluck

Home care workers union wins ruling from state board on unpaid pandemic bonuses

By: - November 10, 2021 7:41 pm

Nora Clark helps her client, Scott Semo, shave. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Hundreds of home care workers still have not received pandemic bonus pay the state Legislature set aside for them more than a year ago, but a ruling by a state employment board on Tuesday could help them be made whole.

In October 2020, state lawmakers approved an 8.4% temporary increase in payments to home care agencies as part of the massive $1.9 billion spending package.

Agencies were expected to pass much of that extra funding along to their employees caring for the state’s elderly and disabled residents. Many did, providing about a $300-$400 bonus to thousands of full-time home care workers.

But more than 600 home care workers never saw a bump in their paychecks, according to the Service Employees International Union, which represents 20,000 of the roughly 100,000 home care workers in the state.

Home care worker Marslion Eleby was one of them. She repeatedly asked her personal care aide agency for the pandemic-related hazard pay that the Legislature and Walz approved to no avail.

“I just stopped asking. Why bother, since they wouldn’t even respond?” Eleby said in a statement released by SEIU.

SEIU looked to file grievances on behalf of their members but ran into a problem: There was no contract to enforce.

Minnesota Management and Budget hadn’t negotiated with the union on how the extra reimbursement funds paid to home care agencies should be distributed.

The union took its case to Minnesota’s Public Employment Relations Board, which ruled that MMB should have negotiated with the union on how to distribute the funds.

The board directed the state to take up negotiations with SEIU and agree on how to correctly distribute the temporary increase in pay and award back pay to all home care workers who did not receive payment.

The ruling does not apply to non-unionized home care workers, who must seek repayment through a wage theft complaint with the Department of Labor and Industry.

The job’s starting wage is $14.40, and almost half of home care workers in the state receive a form of public assistance.

“This ruling is an important victory for thousands of home care workers all across the state,” SEIU Healthcare Minnesota Vice President Phillip Cryan said in a statement. “They continued going into their clients’ homes every day to provide needed care even during the worst days of the pandemic.”

*This story has been updated with the correct starting wage for home care workers in Minnesota. It is $14.40 an hour.

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Anna Koenning
Anna Koenning

Anna Koenning is a reporting intern for the Reformer. She covered international news for Madrid-based El Independiente and works as a barista when she isn't at the Reformer or in class at the University of Minnesota, where she studies journalism, Spanish and political science.