On May 24, 2013, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed legislation (S. 59) granting independent direct care support providers the right to join a union and bargain collectively as state employees. Independent direct care support providers work directly for homebound elderly and disabled people who rely on Vermont’s Agency of Human Services and Medicaid to pay for the workers’ services. Specifically, the law provides these home health workers the right to:

  • Organize, form, join, or assist a labor organization for the purposes of collective bargaining without interference, restraint, or coercion;
  • Bargain collectively through their chosen representative;
  • Engage in concerted activities for the purpose of supporting or engaging in collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection;
  • Pursue grievances through the chosen representative; and
  • Refrain from any or all such activities.

Under the new law, all 7,500 statewide independent direct care support providers now belong to a single bargaining unit. If a union demonstrates that it has the interest of at least 30% of that bargaining unit, the State Labor Relations Board will order a representation election to allow employees to determine, by majority vote, whether they want that union to represent them. The new law requires the state to conduct any such election by using mail-in ballots.

Wasting no time, on May 29, 2013, Vermont Home Care United/AFSCME, an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, submitted authorization cards signed by 4,500 workers – substantially more than the 30% needed to direct an election. Additionally, a second union, 1199SEIU, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, is vying to get on the election ballot. Under state rules, 1199SEIU needs to demonstrate the support of 10% of the unit to join the ballot.

Because the law only covers independent home care workers, its immediate impact on the private sector is probably minimal. Vermont’s enactment came on the same day Minnesota enacted similar legislation for home care employees in that state.  The law shows, however, that unions are gaining strength in this industry as a whole.