Malloy orders limited negotiating rights for home care aides, child care workers

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has signed two executive orders providing a path for child care workers and home care attendants who work in state-funded programs to organize and gain collective bargaining rights.

The orders enact scaled-back versions of legislative proposals that did not pass this year and, in the case of home care workers, generated intense opposition. While the proposals would have given collective bargaining rights to family child care providers and personal care attendants, the executive orders establish working groups that would report to the governor by February on how best to establish collective bargaining rights for the two groups.

malloy with 1199 union workers

Candidate Dannel Malloy rallies with striking health-care workers during 2010 campaign

"I have said repeatedly that I believe in the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain, and personal care attendants and family child care providers are often-times the hardest-working, and lowest-paid workers in our job force," Malloy said in a statement released by his office.

Malloy said the orders will allow the workers to immediately begin informal discussions about quality-of-life issues, "with an eye toward establishing formal collective bargaining rights in the future."

Both executive orders noted that the workforces addressed typically earn low wages, with no benefits, paid time off or standardized training, leading to high turnover and inconsistent quality.

"It is important that those who care for both our youngest and oldest citizens receive equitable pay and workforce security," Malloy said.

In the case of child care workers, those who receive subsidies through the state's Care 4 Kids program would be allowed to elect a "majority representative" to have non-binding discussions with the Department of Social Services, which runs the program. The discussions would address topics including compensation, training and professional development, the quality and availability of family child care in the state, and improving recruitment and retention of qualified child care providers.

Care 4 Kids serves low- and moderate-income families and is involved in funding more than 4,000 child care workers.

"It is important for family child care providers to be given the opportunity to collectively communicate with the Department of Social Services to explore opportunities to increase wages and benefits through the Care 4 Kids program, thereby providing a stabilized workforce," the order said.

The other order applies to personal care attendants, or PCAs, who work with seniors and people with disabilities, providing services such as helping individuals bathe, dress, eat or drive to work. The state provides funding for PCAs, but the people who receive the services are considered the the attendants' employers.

Home and personal care assistants are among the fastest growing jobs in the state, and the demand is expected to grow as baby boomers age and the state moves toward providing more long-term care outside of institutions. Experts say the limited workforce is a major barrier to expanding the use of home-based long-term care.

Malloy's executive order provides a way for PCAs to elect a "majority representative" for non-binding discussions over issues including compensation, recruitment and retention, training and professional development, and the quality and availability of PCAs.

The discussions would take place with a seven-member Personal Care Attendant Quality Home Care Workforce Council, which would be led by the commissioner of social services and would include the commissioner of developmental services, the healthcare advocate, and four people appointed by the governor, who would be consumers, their surrogates, or advocates for seniors and people with disabilities.

In addition to discussing workforce issues with the PCAs' majority representative, the workforce council would study issues related to the workforce and would be required to establish registries to help consumers find PCAs.

A proposal in the legislature this year to give collective bargaining rights to PCAs drew intense opposition from people with disabilities, who also raised concerns last month when word spread that Malloy was considering enacting a pared down version in an executive order.

One of their concerns was that funding to pay PCAs is capped, so higher wages for attendants could lead to fewer hours of service, which could make it harder for the people they serve to live independently.

The executive order said the reform of the programs that fund PCAs  requires careful consideration of their economic impact, and must ensure the state receives the maximum amount of federal funds, "and therefore, should include all of the relevant stakeholders."

Some people who opposed giving bargaining rights to PCAs said that since the responsibilities they have are unique to each client, having a centralized structure could interfere with the individualized, intimate nature of the work.

Catherine Ludlum, a Manchester resident who hires PCAs and opposed the bill, said she was concerned that the workforce council would not have a personal care attendant on it. She said that showed that it's "a mechanism for getting the union in."

"In the disability community, the prime directive is nothing about us without us," she said. "So what are we doing? Employers and state officials in a room, talking about personal assistants' issues without personal assistants there."

The New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU, which represents nursing home workers, hailed the order as "a first step toward solving workforce shortages."

The union said that in both the home care and child care systems, the lack of focused recruitment, retention and training has made it difficult for people to find reliable care.

"With providers united into organizations that can advocate for quality improvements, it will build a more stable, professional workforce that consumers can better rely on," it said.