MONTPELIER -- A second major national union formally put in its bid Tuesday to represent more than 7,000 home care workers allowed to organize under a new state law letting them engage in collective bargaining.
The filing at the state Labor Relations Board one day before the deadline is expected to set up a spirited summer campaign pitting the Service Employees International Union against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in a battle to represent a workforce in which wages of $10 per hour are common and benefits are few.
On Tuesday, about 60 SEIU members and supporters gathered for a rally at the Statehouse before marching down the street to deliver the signed union cards to the Labor Relations Board.
"Voting for SEIU is an easy choice for me," said Karen Topper, state coordinator of Green Mountain Self Advocates, one of Vermont’s leading disability rights organizations. "As a home care worker myself, I know that when it comes to disability rights, we need to have a partner who understands how important this is for our clients and our communities."
AFSCME responded with a statement quoting supporter Janelle Blake, a home care provider from Essex Junction. She cited the $10 per hour wage typical in Vermont, adding that she has "no health insurance or sick days. In other states, like Iowa, Maryland and California, where home care workers are represented by AFSCME, workers have received pay increases and access to health benefits, registries and training.
Each union pointed to the other’s base outside of Vermont as a shortfall.
SEIU said of AFSCME: "A Boston-based prison guard union just isn’t the right choice for Vermont homecare workers."
AFSCME called its rival "the out-of-state, New York City-based SEIU."
SEIU leaders razzed an AFSME official for mispronouncing Montpelier, playing a recording of the official saying "MAHN’-tee-peller."
SEIU officials then presented a poster-sized thank-you card to Sen. John Campbell, the Senate leader and a key backer of the bill allowing home care workers to unionize. The card called him "Senator John Campbell/ Speaker Pro Tem." His actual title is president pro tem.
Some union activists at Tuesday’s rally spoke of caring for disabled family members with a state subsidy. One, Zev Nicholson, who said he had come for the SEIU organization effort from Minnesota, said he would rather care for his ailing mother for love instead of money.
But, he said, "My car loan and my student loans, they aren’t going to have the same philosophy in the matter. They’re not going to do it out of love."