Frontline Initiative: Advocacy and Voting

Joining Together as a Workforce to Advocate for Better Wages, Benefits, and Training

Video from the Web version of this publication:

Frontline Initiative: Interview with Sumer Spika:

Sumer had been working as a personal care assistant (PCA) for nearly a decade when she got involved with organizing. She joined with other PCAs and direct support professionals (DSPs) to advocate for better wages, benefits, and training for the workforce. At the time, she was the only financial provider for her family. Her children's father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was unable to work. In addition to changing a law allowing Minnesota’s direct support workforce to unionize, the organizing efforts have led to wage increases from $7.50 an hour to $19 an hour and a wage scale based on years of experience. They also won paid training and supplies for direct support professionals. Sumer still speaks up about funding for benefits like retirement and health insurance.

To accomplish these wins, Sumer has built strong relationships with lawmakers. She’s also organized events like walk-a-days. In a walk-a-day, a lawmaker follows a direct support worker and steps in to do the job—with consent from the person supported. The governor of Minnesota came to her house and did a walk-a-day with a PCA of her children's father. The governor followed the PCA’s lead, performing all the supports needed. “This, I think, changed his perspective on this work, to feel what it's like to care for somebody in that intimate way really has an impact on somebody,” Sumer said. When the direct support contract came up for renewal in the Minnesota legislature, the governor knew the bill absolutely needed to pass. Because of his experience, he understood direct support work and why it needs to be recognized. Sumer discusses her experiences in this video.

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Sumer Spika is an organizer with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa, and a personal care assistant in Minnesota. Sumer can be reached at