Gov gets recs for home care, child care worker collective bargaining

The working groups charged with recommending how to structure collective bargaining rights for home care workers and daycare providers in state-funded programs issued their reports to the governor Wednesday. Neither group offered a prescription for collective bargaining, but identified key issues to address and options for resolving them.

The legislature must take action for either group of workers to gain collective bargaining rights, and any proposal is likely to be controversial. Supporters say collective bargaining will benefit low-paid workers and improve the quality and stability of needed work forces. Opponents say workers will lose money by paying union dues and worry that unionization and collective bargaining could affect the care provided and consumers’ ability to choose who provides it.

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said the governor’s office is reviewing the working groups’ reports. “The governor appreciates all the work they did on this very important issue,” he said. “We’ll be working with our partners in the legislature in the coming weeks as we determine the best path forward.”

Edwina May

Edwina May supports collective bargaining rights for PCAs

Malloy established the working groups through two controversial executive orders issued in September. The orders allowed for unionization by family child care providers paid through the state’s Care 4 Kids program and personal care attendants paid through state-administered home care programs. They also called for developing a path for the workers to gain collective bargaining rights.

Child care providers voted in December to unionize, and will be represented by CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 in nonbinding discussions with the state Department of Social Services. The New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, SEIU, is seeking to unionize personal care attendants, or PCAs.

In the case of PCAs, the people receiving services are considered the PCAs’ employers, even though the money used to pay wages comes from the state. The fact that they don’t have a common employer to negotiate with is part of what makes giving them collective bargaining rights complicated. Other states that provide collective bargaining for home care workers typically use one of two models, according to the working group’s report. One, used in Illinois, makes the state the “employer of record” for home care workers, solely for the purpose of bargaining. The other, used in Massachusetts and Oregon, use a separate entity as the employer for collective bargaining purposes.

The PCA working group’s report offered several options for collective bargaining but did not make a specific recommendation.

It did include a set of guiding principles used in the group’s discussions. Those included that PCAs should not be considered state employees; that the dignity of the person hiring PCAs and the right to self-direct their care is paramount; that providing collective bargaining will not affect the rights of the person employing the PCA to hire, refuse to hire, supervise, direct or terminate employment of a PCA; and that collective bargaining should be viewed with the goal of maintaining or expanding on current levels of service.

Currently, state-administered programs that fund home care services limit how much money a person can receive to pay for PCA services, and critics have argued that increasing PCAs’ wages could require some people to receive fewer hours of service.

The working group’s report listed issues that need to be resolved, and options for doing so. Those included how to define the bargaining unit or units, what entity should negotiate for management and what subjects are appropriate for collective bargaining.

Cathy Ludlum

Catherine Ludlum opposes unionization for PCAs

The report also noted the need for balance between the interests of the union and consumers who hire PCAs. Currently, employers can set wages for their PCAs below the maximum the state permits, which allows them to give PCAs raises over time. The working group “is mindful that a balance needs to be struck between between the union’s strong interest in protecting the PCA from unreasonably low or unfair wages, and the consumer’s right to manage the benefit that has been conferred upon them,” the report said.

It also pointed to the need for balance in addressing training, a controversial issue in home care. The union has an interest in securing training for the safety and advancement of PCAs, the report said, while consumers have the right to train the PCA to meet their individual needs.

The report of the child care working group took a similar structure. The group’s guiding principles included the fact that child care providers in the Care 4 Kids program are not state employees, that the presence of a collective bargaining agent does not affect the rights of parents or guardians to select, recruit, direct or terminate providers, and that the goal should be to maintain or expand current levels of services provided.

It identified similar issues for resolution, including the definition of the bargaining unit and appropriate subjects of collective bargaining.

A meeting where the PCA working group finalized the recommendations Wednesday afternoon drew a crowd of supporters and opponents of unionization.

Edwina May of Hartford attended with two personal care attendants who work for her. She thinks they should have collective bargaining rights

“They need more money,” she said. “They work so hard.”

May said she is having surgery next month and worries how her attendants will support themselves while she is in the hospital, when they won’t get paid. If they had paid time off, she said, her attendants could still receive compensation in situations like that.

Catherine Ludlum of Manchester, who hires PCAs and is a critic of unionization, said she expects the debate to move to the legislature.

“I don’t think it’s the end,” she said. “I think it’s the beginning.”

Ludlum noted that the working group’s charge was to make recommendations about collective bargaining, and didn’t include the possibility of recommending that nothing be done.

“It felt like a done deal before it started,” she said.