National unions compete to organize under new Vermont law

Friday June 7, 2013

MONTPELIER -- Two national unions competing to organize Vermont home care workers under a new state law took their fight before the state Labor Relations Board on Thursday, with one pushing for a quick union vote and the other urging caution.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees appeared to win the day over the Service Employees International Union, as the board went ahead and set rules for an upcoming election in which about 7,000 workers will be asked which union should represent them -- despite the SEIU's urging that the board not rush things.

Normally, that would mean an election within about six weeks, said Carolyn Klinglesmith, an organizer with AFSCME. But this unionization effort is unusual in that while the workers are paid by Vermont Medicaid, they work at the pleasure of the clients and families they serve in homes around the state.

Matt McDonald, an organizer with the SEIU, urged the labor board to proceed with caution. He and other SEIU officials urged that special rules be set up to communicate with a workforce much more far-flung than workers in a traditional office setting. Among the questions: specific rules for mailing ballots, rules governing visits by organizers for either union to workers' homes while they have the ballots, and a host of others.

"I think any union that wants to represent these workers and represent them effectively would take careful consideration about some of the things that we've proposed because these units (other states' home care unions) have been litigated multiple times," McDonald told the board. "Similar types of units have actually been thrown out by the courts based on the facts that things were done in a sloppy fashion."

Klinglesmith said in interviews that SEIU is trying to delay the vote so that it can flood the state with organizers and try to drum up support for its own unionization effort.

The two unions were allies in successfully pushing legislation to allow unionization by workers who provide personal care to elderly and disabled Vermonters in their homes. But now they're adversaries, vying to represent a part of the labor force that would make either of them one of the state's largest unions, likely with clout rivaling the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association teachers' union or the Vermont State Employees' Association.

More than a dozen AFSCME supporters crowded the board's small hearing room, wearing bright green T-shirts bearing the words "Vermont Homecare United AFSCME" and white stickers saying "Let me vote" and "No delay." AFSCME has been pushing for a quick union election, while SEIU leaders have been pushing for a slower process.

"For a year now, providers like me have been receiving phone calls, literature in the mail and house visits from both SEIU and AFSCME," Carol Delage of St. Albans, a home care worker and AFSCME supporter, testified at the hearing. She disputed SEIU officials' contention that workers needed more time to get informed.

"We've seen the newspaper ads and we've heard the radio ads. So to say that providers don't know this is coming, don't know that this election is happening, is frankly just not true," Delage said.


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