Up Tuesday: Hearing on PCA, child care unionization bills

The fight over unionizing home care and child care workers will continue at the state Capitol complex Tuesday as legislators hear public testimony on controversial proposals to give the two groups collective bargaining rights.

Legislators last year considered, but did not pass, bills that would have given collective bargaining rights to home care workers and child care workers in state-funded programs. In September, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued two executive orders giving each group limited negotiating rights. The orders allowed the workers to unionize and provided for non-binding discussions between the state and the union. They didn't give either group collective bargaining rights, but established working groups to make recommendations on how to structure such rights.

The bills that are pending before the legislature's Labor and Public Employees Committee grew out of that process, and would grant collective bargaining rights to personal care attendants who serve seniors and people with disabilities in state-funded programs, and to family child care providers paid through the state's Care 4 Kids program.

They're expected to draw criticism from Republicans in the legislature, as well as critics who say Malloy overstepped his authority in issuing the orders, and people with disabilities who worry that unionization will interfere with the nature of the state's home care programs, which emphasize control by the person receiving services. Opponents of unionization have also raised concerns that increasing wages could lead to a reduction in services if the overall funding for the programs doesn't increase.

Already, the executive orders have led to one lawsuit, filed by the Waterbury-based We, the People of Connecticut, Inc., on behalf of five child care providers and one personal care attendant. The Yankee Institute for Public Policy is also expected to challenge the orders in court.

In issuing the orders, Malloy described family child care workers and personal care attendants as "often-times the hardest working, and lowest-paid workers in our job force," and noted that both workforces typically don't get benefits, paid time off or standardized training, leading to high turnover and inconsistent quality.

Supporters of unionization say collective bargaining rights could help improve wages and benefits and make the jobs more attractive as the state faces an increase in demand for home care workers. They've also argued that having a collective voice could help in lobbying for more funding for the programs.

The bills would prohibit the unions representing personal care attendants and family child care providers from bargaining over issues including access to state employee benefits; the right of a consumer or consumer's family to hire, supervise or fire any provider; or grievance procedures against any consumer. Both bills also prohibit any contract provision from leading to a reduction in services; in the case of home care, some of which is funded through Medicaid, the bill also prohibits any contract provision from reducing Medicaid funds to the state.

The legislature is just one venue for the fight.

In a lawsuit filed last week in Hartford Superior Court, We, the People of Connecticut argued that Malloy exceeded his authority in issuing the executive orders, "unconstitutionally usurping the authority of the legislative department and its evidence decision not to establish a procedure for the State to recognize and collectively bargain with child care providers and personal care attendants." The complaint said that Malloy's actions denied the plaintiffs their rights to, among other things, assemble, have the general assembly make law, seek redress of grievances before the law is enacted, and choose to be represented by a union. "[S]uch violation is akin to slavery and stands in direct conflict with the Plaintiffs rights" under the Connecticut and U.S. Constitutions, it said.

The lawsuit argued that the plaintiffs would be compelled to pay union dues and submit to "bargained for" rules and regulations that add to the cost of doing business, potentially forcing them out of business.

In a statement, Andrew McDonald, the governor's general counsel, said, "We are reviewing the lawsuit, and are trying to separate the flotsam from the jetsam contained in it. If we can discern a recognizable legal theory amid the political hyperbole in it, we will address that theory in court."

Child care workers voted in December to be represented by CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 in non-binding 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.

The public hearing will be held at 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, in room 1B of the Legislative Office Building.

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