In sickness and in health: Working in Minnesota

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[CORRECTED 6/21/2016] Sick pay for sick days, a nurse’s strike, and the desperate situation of home health care aides and the people they care for: three stories about workers in Minnesota highlight both the positive power of organizing and the need for more support for workers.

Good news first: The Minneapolis city council passed a paid sick leave ordinance in May. Unanimously. The ordinance covers workplaces with six or more employees and also requires smaller workplaces to let workers take unpaid sick time. Employees in places with more than six employees earn sick time as they work. (The law will take effect in July 2017.) After 30 hours, employees get one hour of sick time. They can accumulate up to 48 hours in a year. They can use sick time for sickness (physical or mental) and medical appointments, for themselves or family members.

The ordinance covers “sick or safe time.” What’s safe time? Say your daughter has been stalked by a violent ex-boyfriend. She can use her accumulated sick time to search for a new apartment where he can’t find her, or to go to court. That’s safe time.

While some other cities have passed paid sick leave ordinances, Minneapolis was the first in Minnesota. St. Paul could be next. A task group recommended applying St. Paul’s ordinance to all employees, regardless of the size of the workplace. The Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Commission’s Earned Sick and Safe Time Task Force has a public hearing scheduled for June 21 at the Wellstone Center.  I’m planning on going, and maybe posting from/about the hearing tomorrow.

The sick or safe time ordinances come from good organizing. Labor unions, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Isaiah, and other groups stood up and continue standing up for workers.

The other work-and-health stories are not good news.

Reducing health care for nurses

Allina nurses are out on strike because Allina wants to reduce their health care benefits. Workday Minnesota reports:

“Nurses are standing together to defend their affordable, quality health insurance plans. Since contract talks began in February, Allina has refused to budge from its demand that nurses give up four union-sponsored insurance options and transition into ‘core’ plans that cover most of Allina’s other employees.

“’We hear a lot of our co-workers complaining about those plans,’ United physical rehabilitation nurse Barbara Slagg said. ‘Some insurance plans seem cheaper until you actually access the care. Then you pay huge amounts out of pocket.’

“Slagg, whose unit at the hospital has been shut down for the duration of the strike, said union negotiators have been unable to gain access to the information necessary to adequately compare Allina’s core plans to the MNA options. She also said Allina refused to bargain over nurses’ staffing and safety concerns ‘until we complied with their demand to give up our insurance.'”

Want to support the nurses?

“Supporters are welcome – and appreciated – on the picket line, according to the union. MNA has posted a sign-up form for picketers at

Stark choice: no care or no pay

Sandra Borgstahl wrote in MinnPost’s Community Voices section about the legislature’s utter failure of her and other people with disabilities who need the help of personal care aides.

“I have had four strokes and have lost the use of my right-side leg and arm, and my eyesight is impaired. My doctor has prescribed 24/7 care by a PCA as a live-in aide.”

New federal rules require that PCAs and other caregivers be paid overtime for more than 40 hours of work per week. Given the already-low hourly pay of caregivers, that’s a long overdue protection. But it has consequences:

“[M]any home health care agencies have responded to new federal rules — requiring overtime pay and pay for travel time between patients — by cutting hours that caregivers can work, capping them at 40 per week. When home care workers’ hours are cut, it compounds the problem of our current caregiver shortage.”

The Minnesota legislature failed to allocate the money needed to pay overtime to these essential caregivers.

“What is especially upsetting is that House Republicans found the time and resources to insert a $32 million tax break to tobacco companies in the final tax bill, but left out a smaller amount needed to get our state in line with the federal overtime law for home care workers.”

That’s a short-sighted financial decision, because keeping people at home with caregivers is hugely less expensive than putting them in nursing homes. The decision is also cruel to both the people who need care and the caregivers, forcing inhumane choices:

“Like many care recipients, I am allotted over 40 hours per week of care by the state. With the new cap imposed by agencies, that means home care workers like Steve, who cares for me, can only be paid for 40 hours of work. The rest of the hours I need? There are only three options: I try to find someone I trust who will work for just 2 hours a day, or my worker chooses to work those hours without pay, or I go without the care I need.

“In my case it means Steve has given hours of his time to me unpaid because he knows there is no better option. Caregivers like Steve have big hearts, so this situation of working for free is often what happens, and it is wrong. “

If and when a special session is finally called, the legislature could add the money needed to pay Steve and other caregivers. Organizing around this issue means:

1) writing to Governor Mark Dayton and telling him you consider money to pay caregivers a top priority for the special session,


2) Telling your legislator the same thing.

Send them this blog post. Or send them Sandra Borgstahl’s article from MinnPost.

Organize: it’s what makes change happen.

CORRECTION 6/21/2016: Changed description of the public hearing. It was an official hearing of the Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Commission’s Earned Sick and Safe Time Task Force. 


1 Comment

Filed under health care, work

One response to “In sickness and in health: Working in Minnesota

  1. Pingback: Cheating the caregivers | News Day

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