Two Republican lawmakers from Southington allowed opponents of two executive orders voice their frustration Thursday over the orders which allow personal care attendants and day care workers to form a union.
It’s unlikely the Democrat-controlled General Assembly will overturn Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s two executive orders, but “you never know what’s going to make a difference,” Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, said.
What is clear to Markley, at least, is that Malloy ignored the concerns of those with disabilities receiving the services of personal care attendants. He said the forum was a way to gather information about the issue from all sides, but the unions declined to participate.
Instead union leaders gathered outside the hearing room with day care workers and disabled individuals in support of allowing the two groups of employees a union.
Caldwell Johnson, a paraplegic from New Haven, said he thinks allowing personal care attendants to form a union would cut down on turnover. Johnson who was injured three years ago said he’s had 50 personal care attendants show up at his door for a few hours at a time.
He said if they were allowed to work for 8 hours at a time they could do a better job and they would know there’s some stability. He said if they had a union they wouldn’t have rush around all the time.
Johnson, who hires his company through an agency, said he gets a list of personal care attendants to call, but when one doesn’t show up he has to call another one.
“When they decide not to show up they never call,” Johnson sad. “We need to develop a better system.”
But Catherine Ludlum of Manchester, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, said she has developed her own system over the past 23 years. She said uses 8 to 10 personal care attendants a week to maintain her independence, and they’re all extremely loyal to her and professional.
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.”
But Dawn Luciano, who supports the formation of a union, said she thinks it will help get rid of the bad apples because at the moment $9 to $11 an hour isn’t attracting a lot of good people to the business.
Luciano, a part-time personal care attendant, said she would love to be able to do the job full-time, but she can’t because there’s no health care benefits and the pay isn’t enough to support her family.
Luciano believes a union would be good both for personal care attendants and the clients.
She said she thinks most of the clients would want to be comfortable with their personal care attendants since they often have to do personal things such as change diapers and help them bathe.
“If I were in their situation I would like to see the same person every week,” Luciano said.
She said even if the state has to increase the amount of money it gives to disabled individuals to spend on PCA’s it’s still lower than the cost of nursing home care. She said with the PCA waivers, which are capped at 25 hours a week, the clients get to maintain their independent and continue living in their homes.
She said a union isn’t going to take away their right to hire who they want to come to their home.
Stephen Mendelsohn, a disability rights advocate, alleged Thursday that Malloy just issued the executive orders in order to buy union votes and in doing so he may be “taking the votes of the disability community for granted.”
He wondered why the governor’s office let the legislation die, if it really wanted it to pass.
Markley said there was a reason the legislation, which allowed personal care attendants to unionize, stalled after the committee process this year. He said there were many unanswered questions.
But Malloy expressed confidence Thursday that any issues that come up can be dealt with.
“Because of, in some senses, their disparate employment they’re not getting the opportunity to bargain, negotiate for themselves. All’s I’m saying is if those folks want that opportunity, I believe in America they should have that opportunity,” Malloy said. “Let’s be very clear, what we’re really talking about is people that are in large numbers employed by agencies that specifically treat them as employees, but under the guise of calling them independent contractors deny them the ability to negotiate.”
Andrew Markowski, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said it’s not only personal care attendants and day care workers and their clients concerned about the executive order, it’s small businesses.
“The fact that this came down outside of the legislative arena, outside of the General Assembly via the executive branch really has put a chilling effect out there,” Markowski said. “More than any other issue this year, save for the tax increases and the state budget situation, this specific policy are probably the most alarming to the small business community.”
He said they all wonder what industry is next. He said the message sent by the two executive orders is contrary to the message sent by the bipartisan special session on jobs.
But support and opposition for the executive order wasn’t exactly black and white for at least one person who testified.
State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein didn’t take a position on the executive orders, but she offered up some concerns. She said she wants to make sure already stressed families taking care of disabled children in their homes don’t have any other obstacles to overcome. She said it’s vital that the clients maintain control and flexibility over the scheduling of PCA’s.
She said subsidies the clients receive for these programs also need to be reviewed as this goes forward. She also warned against taking anything away from the clients and urged lawmakers to make sure families are part of the conversation as the planning for this evolves.