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Pennsylvania Home Care Workers Vote for Union Representation

May 14, 2015

Pennsylvania home care workers who provide consumer-directed care voted overwhelmingly on April 24 to be represented by an organization connected to national labor unions.

In the vote, 89 percent of workers opted to be represented by the United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania (UHWP), a joint partnership of Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

The vote was set into motion by an executive order issued on February 27 by Gov. Tom Wolf (D). The executive order allows workers who provide Medicaid-funded, participant-directed home care to vote for representation by an outside organization, which would meet regularly with two high-ranking officials in the state Department of Human Services to discuss “issues of mutual concern through a meet-and-confer process.”

“Issues of mutual concern” include wages, benefits, training, recruitment, and retention.

The order does not, however, “grant these workers the right to form a union,” labor expert Moshe Z. Marvit of the Century Foundation wrote in a May 2 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed. (Pennsylvania law forbids home care workers who provide care directly to consumers through a Medicaid waiver program from joining a union.)

Rather, Marvit continues, the executive order simply allows them “to elect a representative to discuss workers’ concerns with state officials,” a provision which “should have been hailed as a sensible way to give a decentralized workforce that deals with a vulnerable population a voice.”

Instead, two separate lawsuits were filed in early April arguing that the executive order violates Pennsylvania law by opening the door to unionization of home care workers.

One lawsuit was brought jointly by the Pennsylvania Homecare Association, an industry group, and United Cerebral Palsy of Pennsylvania, a disability-rights organization; the other was filed by the Fairness Center, an anti-union group.

The lawsuits will be argued in September, The Wall Street Journal reported on April 24.

— by Matthew Ozga

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