EDINA, Minn.—An in-home caregiver named Edison is supposed to live in a unit on the seventh floor of the Cedars of Edina apartment complex, according to a list supplied by the state government.
“We scrolled through the electronic directory where the names are listed alphabetically. There is no one listed here named Edison,” @workerfreedom’s Matt Patterson says.
But when The Daily Signal tags along on a visit to the Gallagher Drive location by activists seeking to decertify the union that represents such caregivers, no one by Edison’s full name can be found in the directory of residents.
“As you can see, we scrolled through the electronic directory where the names are listed alphabetically,” canvasser Matt Patterson tells this reporter. “There is no one listed here named Edison.”
Which is odd, Patterson adds, because Edison’s name is a new one that Minnesota had just provided on a list of Medicaid-eligible home caregivers represented by the union, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.
“We’ll want to make sure this person has actually moved and is not residing here,” he notes.
Patterson, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Worker Freedom, is working with a local lawyer to expose what they suspect is voter fraud, unauthorized collection of dues from Medicaid payments, and other illegal or improper actions connected with unionization of in-home caregivers in Minnesota.
Lawmakers on a joint subcommittee of the state House and Senate are scheduled to look into such allegations and evidence beginning next Monday, The Daily Signal has learned.
Volunteers canvassing neighborhoods in and around the Twin Cities also have found what they describe as nonexistent addresses, abandoned homes, and vacant lots, among other irregularities that raise questions about a 2014 election to unionize nearly 30,000 home caregivers.
That vote, conducted by mail-in ballot, was administered by the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services and resulted in victory for SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
Copies of affidavits signed by the volunteers and obtained by The Daily Signal detail discrepancies between names and addresses listed in public records and actual locations they visited. The Minnesota residents who gave the affidavits are part of the campaign to decertify SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.
Several in-home caregivers, widely known in Minnesota as personal care assistants, or PCAs, have told The Daily Signal that they never received a ballot to vote in the election held in August 2014.
Other PCAs presented evidence in the affidavits suggesting that someone forged their signatures on union documents they say they never signed. Others say they believe someone copied their signatures onto union membership forms and election authorization forms they never would have knowingly signed.
‘My Fears Were Justified’
Janine Yates, a resident of Hopkins, Minnesota, works as a personal care assistant for a family friend.
In an affidavit, Yates says she is convinced an SEIU operative forged her signature on an election authorization form and then used it without permission so that dues would be deducted from her Medicaid benefit check.
In her affidavit, Yates recalls that an SEIU representative visited her at home in May 2014, roughly three months before the unionization election.
Although she was not “willing to endorse, support, or join” the union, Yates says in the affidavit, the SEIU representative was “very persistent.” She had to repeat herself and say “no” several times before he would leave her doorstep:
As the SEIU solicitor walked away, I saw him writing on the document he had presented me for signature. I was worried, at the time, that he was signing this card with my name. My fears were justified …
Exhibit A in Yates’ affidavit is a membership form that she says was presented to the union as though she had signed it when she had not.
Three weeks later, Yates says, another SEIU representative came to her door to ask her to join the union. When she declined, he gave her a document that he said was authorizing the union to send her updates by text message.
“Many months later, I realized that SEIU dues were being deducted from the PCA benefit I received for caring for my friend, which I never wanted and did not sign,” Yates says in the affidavit.
What the Law Did for SEIU
Douglas Seaton, a partner in a Minneapolis-based firm, is spearheading volunteers’ efforts to collect enough signatures to trigger a new election they hope will result in decertification of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota as the PCAs’ union. Patterson, of the Center for Worker Freedom, a nonprofit affiliated with Americans for Tax Reform, is working with him.
Under a Minnesota state program called PCA Choice, about 27,000 personal care assistants receive a Medicaid subsidy to cover the costs of services they provide to disabled individuals, who typically are family members such as a son or daughter. The PCAs provide these services in their own home or the home of the disabled individual.
Kris Greene, a personal care assistant who lives in Lakeville, is the lead plaintiff in litigation against the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat.
For the past six years, Greene, 53, has provided care at home for her 24-year-old daughter Meredie, who has a disorder called Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome.
“My daughter is very childlike and very vulnerable,” Greene says in an interview with The Daily Signal in St. Paul on the sidelines of the March 4 press conference.
“She was in a day program where she had to rely on a lot of people, but didn’t like it and she would not thrive there. She’s nonverbal and can’t speak well.”
In 2013, Dayton signed into law a bill that classified personal care assistants as public employees, but only for the purposes of collective bargaining. SEIU Healthcare Minnesota organized the election, using mail-in ballots, to unionize the PCAs.
Out of the 27,000 personal care assistants eligible to vote, however, only 5,849 voted. A total of 3,543 voted yes to name SEIU Healthcare Minnesota as their exclusive representative, and 2,306 voted no. This means that 13 percent of the state’s PCAs were permitted to unionize all 27,000.
The current contract between the state and SEIU allows the union to deduct 3 percent, or up to $948 a year, from Medicaid payments to personal care assistants who are part of the union.
Seaton estimates, based on public records, that SEIU could pull in as much as $5 million a year in dues from PCAs in Minnesota.
Going into the election, SEIU had every advantage since state law says unions need only a majority of those who vote and not a majority of the entire bargaining unit.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 2014 case Harris v. Quinn, ruled 5-4 that unions such as SEIU, which represent public employees, may collect dues only from those who voluntarily join.
Pamela Harris, an Illinois resident who cares for her disabled son at home, brought the case. Citing the First Amendment, Harris and others argued it was unconstitutional for state laws to compel in-home caregivers to pay union dues and accept a union as their exclusive representative to the government.
Harris says she is familiar with union tactics in Minnesota and sees union operatives as making a concerted effort to undermine the Supreme Court ruling.
“I still recall the two young SEIU representatives at my door early on a Sunday asking me to sign the card just so they could show their supervisor they had talked with me,” Harris says in an email to The Daily Signal, adding:
Little did I know that my decision to not sign their card likely kept me from supporting the SEIU. The duplicity and aggressiveness of the campaign was unsettling. The unions are rich, powerful, and adept at suppressing anyone who chooses to rebuke their compulsory fees.
The work that the good people in Minnesota are doing to uncover and shine light on this scheme is so important. The public needs to know how the SEIU and these politicians have twisted our laws to legally siphon these precious Medicaid dollars from our sons and daughters into their own pockets. …
Taking public dollars intended to provide care for the disabled and elderly, and giving it to the unions, is reprehensible. And it must be stopped.
Minnesota’s Bureau of Mediation Services, which monitors and administers union elections, requires that signatures from 30 percent of the 27,000 PCAs, or roughly 9,000, must be collected and filed with the agency before an election can be called.
So far, the volunteers organized by Seaton and Patterson have collected about 6,500 signatures, more than the number of voters in the 2014 unionization election and almost twice the number of votes in favor of the union.
Seaton also is pursuing litigation against the Dayton administration on behalf of seven personal care assistants. Those PCAs and other volunteers are part of the coalition Minnesota Personal Care Assistants, or MNPCA, which seeks to decertify SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.
It is Sunday, March 5, and The Daily Signal is observing the canvassing efforts of Seaton and Patterson in the suburbs of Edina, located southwest of Minneapolis in Hennepin County. Edina, with a population of about 50,000, is named after Edinburgh, Scotland.
This afternoon, the canvassers visit a dozen addresses listed by the Bureau of Mediation Services as residences of PCAs in hopes of collecting signatures for a new election. Only three residents turn out to be home.
And then there is Edison, who is supposed to live at the Cedars of Edina complex.
Edison’s address appears on one of the agency’s lists of PCAs but his name isn’t in the apartment directory. Seaton and Patterson have yet to track him down. (The Daily Signal has the full name provided by the state, but is not publishing it.)
The volunteers are using lists of PCAs that a county judge ordered the Dayton administration to release. The day before, during a press conference in St. Paul, Seaton says the official lists are inaccurate, incomplete, and contradictory, making it difficult to collect signatures from those eligible to vote in a union election.
One of the 11 affidavits obtained by The Daily Signal is from Adam Sharp, a resident of Coon Rapids. Sharp isn’t a PCA, but volunteered to collect signatures and spent 12 days canvassing.
“I have discovered that a large number of the addresses on the list are nonexistent or are residences which are abandoned or for sale, or residences at which no one was ever a PCA, is no longer a PCA, or the PCA has moved away,” Sharp says in the affidavit.
One listed address turned out to a vacant lot, he says.
‘Condemned, Abandoned, Torn Down’
Benjamin Wetmore, another volunteer from Coon Rapids, says in his affidavit that he had similar experiences with the state-supplied lists of PCAs’ addresses during 20 days of canvassing:
I have discovered that a very large number of the addresses on the list are nonexistent or are residences which are condemned, abandoned, torn down, or for sale, or residences at which no one was ever a PCA, is no longer a PCA, or the PCA has moved away.
Sharp and Wetmore both say they encountered problems with 30 percent or more of some listings.
The Daily Signal accompanies Seaton and Patterson in a visit to an Edina neighborhood near Pamela Park, where they speak with a resident whose daughter is listed by the state as a PCA but is no longer one.
“My daughter is now off to college where she is a political science major,” the woman says. “She hasn’t worked as a PCA for three months.”
When her daughter lived at home, the woman explains, she attended to the needs of an older sister who is disabled.
The Bureau of Mediation Services dismissed MNPCA’s petition for a new election to decertify SEIU on Feb. 10, saying the group had not collected enough signatures.
Seaton submitted a formal request for reconsideration Feb. 20, but the agency has yet to respond. If the agency doesn’t reverse the dismissal, the lawyer says, he will appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The Ramsey County District Court judge who ordered the Dayton administration to release the lists of PCAs has the authority to order the Bureau of Mediation Services to proceed with a decertification election.
The suit also names the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Minnesota Management and Budget, and relevant department heads as defendants.
Fearing for Program’s Future
In addition to Meredie, Greene has another daughter, Mari, 26, who like her mother is a personal care assistant.
“There’s a great bond between the sisters,” Greene says. “The PCA Choice program makes this possible. Meredie needs a lot of care and a lot of direction throughout the day. She enjoys and thrives being at home with her family.”
As the lead plaintiff in the PCAs’ case, Greene tells reporters she is concerned that SEIU Healthcare Minnesota could permanently alter the state program. She describes it as working for Medicaid beneficiaries, PCAs, family members, and taxpayers.
The alternative to home-based care services, Greene says, would be taxpayer-funded agencies.
For eight weeks, The Daily Signal has sought comment without success from SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and the union’s national organization.
Dayton’s office and the Bureau of Mediation Services also have not responded to multiple requests for comment on this and previous reports.
State Rep. Marion O’Neill, chairman of the House and Senate’s joint Subcommittee on Employee Relations, has scheduled a meeting for next Monday on related questions.
O’Neill, R-Buffalo, has told The Daily Signal that she wants to hold a hearing before the legislative session ends May 22 so that lawmakers can begin to probe allegations of fraud that arose before and after the 2014 unionization election, O’Neill says.
O’Neill and state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, wrote March 14 to Bureau of Mediation Services Commissioner Josh Tilsen, citing the “troubling” allegations and asking him to appear before the 10-member subcommittee. Tilsen, a veteran labor mediator before he joined Dayton’s Cabinet, died unexpectedly April 18 from complications arising from a Staphylococcus infection.
The Dayton administration tapped Deputy Commissioner Todd Doncavage to lead the agency as acting commissioner.
Union officials have done nothing for her family other than to “cause concern for the future of the PCA program,” Greene says, adding:
They have also taken away my voice and are speaking for me at the State Capitol and to [the Department of Human Services]. How can they possibly know what’s best for us? I do not want the SEIU to come between me and my daughter, and intrude on our lives.
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.