Catherine Ludlum of Manchester, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy and uses 8 to 10 personal care attendants a week to maintain her independence, said she doesn’t support Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s executive order that opens up the door to unionizing her personal care attendants.
“This came out without input from the disability community or personal care assistants themselves,” Ludlum said Friday.
Ludlum, 49, said she’s been hiring personal care attendants for 23 years and has lived on her own most of that time. Personal care attendants assist individuals like Ludlum with things like dressing, meal preparation, and shopping. They are paid through the state and funding for the program is limited.
Given that it is an intimate, unique relationship and job, “we feel it’s going to create bureaucracy and confusion and interfere with the loyalty we have to one another,” Ludlum said.
She said it will create an “us versus them” working environment, which won‘t be helpful for either her as the employer of her personal care attendant as the employee. She said the disability community made their case to lawmakers earlier this year and the lawmakers listened by letting similar legislation die.
Malloy revived the concept of the legislation in an executive order he signed this week.
In that executive order it says “personal care attendants typically earn low wages, no benefits, no paid time off, and receive no standardized training.” It says as a result, “the pool of personal care attendants in this state suffers from high turnover and inconsistent quality.”
Jillian Strogoff, one of Ludlum’s personal care attendants, testified in March that she wants better wages, and a retirement, but wonders “why do we need a union to get that?” She said a union will only support “keeping bad apples in the bunch.”
Of course, there are individuals who hire personal care attendants and think a union would improve their ability to get good, quality care. There are several including Dan Ludington, who testified in March that the biggest complaint he hears from his attendants is that they can’t get enough hours, or enough pay. “One of my best aides left to get more pay, because a nursing home can pay $15/hour. I can’t,” he told the Human Services committee. Tyree Winfrey told the committee he thinks giving better pay and benefits will help the frequent turnover.
Ludlum is a Republican, but she says this is not a partisan issue.
Sen. Joseph Markely, R-Southington, said Friday that he feels the executive order continues a sort of “abuse of power.”
“We’re just creating difficulties for them and I feel like for the worst possible political motives,“ Markely said. “If we want to raise people’s wages, then raise people’s wages.”
Markley and other Republicans have said the movement toward possibly unionizing these professions was an attempt by Malloy to pay back the unions for finally voting in favor of the $1.6 billion concession package.
Following a Bond Commission meeting Friday, Malloy said those people probably forget his mother was a public health nurse and that she labored in the field of health care for many years.
“No one should be surprised that I believe that people who care for others need to earn decent wages and have respectable benefits. No one should be surprised by what I did. It is part of my core belief system,” Malloy said.
He also pointed out that unionizing personal care attendants may not be the end result of the discussions.
“First of all it begins the process. It doesn‘t determine anything,” Malloy said. “It elevates the discussion to a point where someone might assume we’ll move in a direction one way or the other and the purpose of the executive order was to get the discussion going in earnest.”
Asked if he anticipated costs of the program would go up if the personal care attendants chose to form a union, Malloy said, “The state of Connecticut is a major contributor to those costs and we have from time to time revised our contribution to those costs in recognition to what the marketplace dictates.”
Malloy’s executive order sets up a nine member council that will make recommendations about labor and other work issues on Feb. 1. It will also create a list of personal care attendants, but individuals like Ludlum can continue to hire attendants that aren’t on the list.
The nine member council in consultation with the Department of Social Services Commissions will use the list to monitor recruitment, retention, and other employment patterns. That list will later be used to see who can vote to form a union. If 20 percent of the personal care attendants on that list agree then a union will be formed.
Malloy also added a provision to the executive order that says the election will be conducted by card check, which means the personal care attendants won’t be able to vote by secret ballot.
Asked why he included that controversial provision in the executive order, Malloy said that’s the norm when organizing disparately employed individuals.