Sara Madill is a mother of four living in Duluth, Minnesota.
In 2014, Sara was a participant in a state program called PCA choice, which provides a modest Medicaid subsidy for personal care attendants (PCAs) who care for a loved one in their home. In Sara’s case, she helped tend her sister Miranda, who suffers from cerebral palsy.
On March 10 of that year, a man from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) came to Sara’s door at 8:30 in the evening. The previous year, you see, Governor Mark Dayton (D) had signed into law a bill making PCAs like Sara “public employees” but only for purposes of collective bargaining. In other words, so Dayton’s pals at the SEIU could get their mitts on the PCA Medicaid money.
And now here they were on Sara’s doorstep, wanting inside her home to tell her how great SEIU membership could be. She was disturbed they knew who she was and where she lived; she was alarmed they had come to her home so late. She had, after all, small children, including a toddler, on the premises.
Sara wasn’t interested in joining the union, and told them so. She shut the door and thought that was that.
But a few days later, another SEIU rep was back at her door, this time a woman. Sara asked her to leave several times before at last threatening to call the police if the woman did not leave her property. Again she made it clear she had no interest in joining — or paying dues to — the SEIU.
Nevertheless, over the next few weeks the Madills had another four visits from the SEIU. On the fourth visit, Sara was presented with a card to fill out which would allow the union to provide her with “more information” about the benefits of membership. She gave them her address, in her words, “just so they would leave me the hell alone.”
Even so, it wasn’t long before Sara got yet another visit from the SEIU. This time two reps had come to harass her, whose behavior she characterized as “very aggressive.” Sara had by this time reached a breaking point, and screamed at them to leave her porch or she would call the police.
They at last left, but that still wasn’t the end of it. A few days later, the calls started. Sara answered it the first time, but hung up as she realized who was calling. From that moment Sara and her husband Jim didn’t pick up when they saw it was the SEIU calling, which was often through the month of April.
By this time, this constant intrusion into their home had begun to take a toll on Sara and her husband, whom I first met and and interviewed in a Duluth coffee shop last April.
Later in 2014, Sara received a ballot in the mail for the union election. Should the SEIU be the exclusive bargaining representative of Minnesota PCAs? Sara seethed as she voted ‘no’ and mailed her ballot in.
Fast forward to July 2015: Sara gets her check as usual, but notices that for the first time “union dues” have been deducted from her pay. Furious, she called the SEIU and told them that she had (repeatedly) never agreed to join the union. She was told over the phone that, on the contrary, the SEIU had her signed dues authorization card on file.
She demanded to see what they had on file, and when she received it in the mail, she was shocked to see a dues authorization card with her signature clearly and crudely forged. She told me she was “almost in tears” and “shaking in anger” at the sight.
For that entire month, dues were deducted from her Medicaid. But she has still, as of this writing, not got her money back, nor has the union received any sanction for forging her signature and stealing her identity. And in December 2016, she was informed by her agency that her PCA hours were cut entirely, with no explanation.
Sara strongly suspects that she was dropped from the PCA program as retribution for speaking out against the union.
(And Sara’s story is — sadly — not unique. Scores of Minnesota PCAs interviewed by the Center for Worker Freedom from June 2016 to September 2017 have similar stories, including Otter Tail County’s Patricia Johansen, whose sorry tale of union intimidation and identity theft I profiled for the Wall Street Journal.)
So Sara joined up with a group organized by Kris Greene and Catherine Hunter called MNPCA, the sole purpose of which is to decertify the SEIU from the PCA program. To that end, volunteers began collecting cards from fellow PCAs saying they wanted a decertification election, contacting thousands of PCAs all across the state for over a year by phone, mail, and foot. Sara traveled to the Twin Cities on multiple occasions to meet with legislators and testify to the fraud and harassment she had been subjected to.
The task of Kris, Catherine, Sara, and their cohorts was not easy. The state labor board is in the pocket of the Dayton administration, and the Dayton administration is in the pocket of the SEIU, so the PCAs had to go to court to get the information they needed to proceed with the decertification process.
Yet they carried on, and last Thursday, they gathered in front of Dayton’s office in St. Paul to announce they had collected over 10,000 cards from angry PCAs wanting out of the union, and demanding the Governor give them an election. They were told by an assistant that the Governor would not see them, but the boxes of cards were received on his behalf, to the jubilation of the assembled ladies (the PCAs are overwhelmingly women) and their families.
This is, in the words of MNPCA attorney Doug Seaton, “a record.” It amounts to the largest “showing of interest” for decertification in U.S. labor history. And yet, the Minnesota press was absent that day, though multiple press releases from multiple organizations had gone out. Heck, there is a whole media wing in the basement of the Capitol building; I myself went down there right before the press conference started to remind them, but no one was home.
Disgraceful, but not surprising. The Minnesota media has largely ignored this monumental and historic labor story right under their noses. It’s too bad — they could have heard Sara tell her story in her own words. In fact, she came down from Duluth, at great cost and trouble, specifically to tell them her story. But the press wasn’t there, and neither was the Governor.
But there were representatives from over 10,000 PCAs packed in one dozen large boxes, all with a story of their own, if only someone would listen.