- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A federal appeals court panel declined Thursday to overturn a new union for thousands of Minnesota personal care attendants who assist the disabled and elderly in home-based settings.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in one of two legal challenges to the unionization. It upheld a lower court’s ruling that workers had the right to form a union and assess fees on those who join voluntarily.

It’s a blow to a group of health workers who opposed the Service Employees International Union drive, arguing that they shouldn’t have been allowed to unionize some 27,000 workers who aren’t full-fledged public employees. Those opponents have said the push threatens their right of free association by potentially forcing them to pay dues to a union they don’t want to be in.

Doug Seaton, attorney for the plaintiffs, said he had just received the decision and hadn’t talked with his clients yet, but that they would consider their appeal options.

“We think we are correct and the court is mistaken,” he said.

Supporters of the union argued it would stabilize an industry plagued by low pay and high turnover, and that participation and dues aren’t mandatory. In January, they reached a contract with the state that provides a minimum $11 hourly wage as well as funding for training and paid time off.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, which represents health care and long-term care workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care, praised the decision as good news. Sumer Spika, the union’s vice president and also a home care worker, said in a statement that the union is excited to continue its work to improve the industry for thousands of families.

“Our work, done predominantly by women and people of color, has been undervalued for far too long. With our union, we are beginning to fight back and ensure that workers and the people we serve have a voice, and we won’t let any lawsuit stop us,” she said.

In Thursday’s ruling, the appellate judges said the union doesn’t violate preexisting contracts care workers have with clients who pay using Medicaid money.

A separate case involving First Amendment association rights of home-care workers hasn’t been decided.

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