Opponents of two executive orders that establish a way for home care attendants and child care workers to unionize voiced their frustration Thursday, warning that they could hurt home care in the state, criticizing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for issuing the orders without input from the people most affected, and questioning whether he overstepped his authority.
Several who spoke said they wanted the orders amended or rescinded, although there’s not a clear path for doing so. Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, who co-hosted the forum on the orders, said it’s unlikely that the legislature’s Democratic majority would take action against the executive orders of a Democrat governor, and that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to challenge the orders in court. The forum, he said, was intended to gather information.
“Let’s air everything and then we can see where we go from there,” he said.
The orders have generated intense opposition, as well as support from some home care attendants and people with disabilities who did not participate in the forum, which union officials criticized as being one-sided.
Malloy said Thursday that any problems that arise from the executive orders can be dealt with. He said the orders were intended to give bargaining rights to workers who are treated as independent contractors but often employed by agencies. “All I am saying is that if those folks want that opportunity, I believe in America they should have that opportunity,” he said.
In the past, Malloy has said that the orders begin the process for establishing bargaining rights, but don’t determine anything.
The orders, which Malloy issued in September, apply to home care attendants and child care workers in state-funded programs. Both orders were scaled-back versions of proposals that legislators considered but did not pass this year.
The order involving home care attendants in particular drew intense opposition, and was largely the focus of Thursday’s forum. Personal care attendants, or PCAs, work for seniors and people with disabilities, performing tasks such as helping them dress, bathe, eat or drive to work. The people who receive the services are considered the PCAs’ employers, but the state funds their wages.
The demand for PCAs is expected to grow rapidly as baby boomers age and the state moves toward providing more long-term care outside nursing homes, but experts say getting enough people to do the work–which does not come with benefits–is a major barrier to expanding the use of home-based care.
Malloy’s order allows PCAs to elect a “majority representative” for non-binding discussions over issues including compensation, recruitment and training of PCAs, and established a seven-member workforce council to hold discussions with the majority representative. The order also established a working group to make recommendations about the best way to structure collective bargaining rights for PCAs.
Those who spoke at Thursday’s forum criticized the effect the order would have on PCAs’ wages, their relationships with their employers, and on small businesses. Many, including Republican legislators, also questioned the process behind the executive order, saying Malloy should not have unilaterally enacted something the legislature rejected and without input from people affected.
“The disability community places enormous importance in the concept of ‘Nothing about us without us,'” said Catherine Ludlum, a Manchester resident who hires PCAs and has opposed the order. Without input from people with disabilities or PCAs, she said, “the executive order is fatally flawed.”
Ludlum also expressed skepticism that the state would be able to raise wages given its budget problems, and noted that workers would have union dues taken out of their paychecks. “I agree that there should be a high-level dialogue about improving wages and benefits for personal assistants,” she said, but added that a union was not the way to do it.
Michelle Tyler, who has worked as a PCA for 9 years, said she believed turnover among PCAs was the result of working too many hours, not the wages, and predicted that the order would lead to fewer attendants. She likened the relationship between a PCA and an employer to a marriage, and said adding a third party would put “a huge damper on that relationship.”
Stephen Mendelsohn, an advocate for people with disabilities, criticized the Service Employees International Union, which backed the proposal to let home care workers unionize. Mendelsohn questioned the union’s tactics, which he said were intimidating, and said that the union’s leaders had received awards from the Connecticut Communist Party.
In response, some Republican lawmakers offered a defense of the union. Rep. Len Greene, R-Seymour, noted that most SEIU members are upstanding citizens and patriotic.
Mendelsohn said he supports the right to unionize, but said that there has been a history of antagonism between people with disabilities and unions, which he said have campaigned to retain jobs in institutions while people with disabilities have sought to live independently.
Andy Markowski, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, focused on the effect of both orders on businesses, saying they would for the first time make the government the employer of private employees.
Markowski warned that the orders would make child and home care more expensive, and said they set a “terrible precedent,” allowing unionization of employees to bypass small business owners because of the relationship with the state.
“Small business owners are scared,” he said, and they’re wondering what industry would be next.
Deb Stevenson also focused on precedent, warning that Malloy overstepped his authority in issuing the orders.
“Unfortunately, our governor is not adhering to his oath of office and is not obeying the constitution of Connecticut,” said Stevenson, chief counsel for We the People of Connecticut, Inc., which is aimed at making sure government officials adhere to their oaths of offices.
She asked lawmakers to call an immediate special session to review the executive orders and declare them unconstitutional.
Several lawmakers criticized Malloy’s use of the executive orders to enact what the legislature did not pass, although they stopped short of promising a special session. Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, called them “simply an overreach of government,” while Rep. Christopher Coutu, R-Norwich, said, “I really don’t think this was democracy, and the people had no say.”
State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein did not take a position on the orders but offered cautions about the process for moving forward, saying it was important that families of children with disabilities or complex health care needs not face additional obstacles to getting home care or lose any control or flexibility. Milstein said she supports improving wages and benefits for home care workers, but said it’s important to ensure that any cost increases are not borne by the people who receive care or their families.
In addition, she said, the disability community and families must be involved in all planning and implementation efforts. “That’s critical,” she said.
Some supporters of the orders spent time in the Legislative Office Building Thursday to express their support outside the forum.
Caldwell Johnson, a New Haven resident, hires PCAs through an agency for help with things including getting out of bed, showering and cleaning his home. He said he needs at least eight hours a day of services, but can’t find PCAs to work more than two to four hours at a time because the state funding does not cover more hours. There’s a lot of turnover, and if a PCA is sick, there’s not always a backup. Johnson thinks PCAs should have health insurance and more stability.
“If we can get this union going, that would help us and help them,” he said.
Dawn Luciano said she’d love to work full-time as a PCA, but for now, only does it on the side.
“It just didn’t pay enough, so I just couldn’t do it,” she said.
Luciano works full-time as a financial sales representative, a job she said she needs for the health insurance and pay.
She thinks having bargaining rights would allow more PCAs to work full-time and work for the same people, and said she thinks the people who use PCAs will benefit from not having to use multiple aides and not having to replace them as often.
“They really have an opportunity to get a lot out of it,” she said.