Tuesday’s Labor and Public Employees Committee public hearing was a packed house over two bills that would give home care assistants and daycare workers the right to collectively bargain benefits with the state.
The bills have been a heated issue ever since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed two executive orders giving the groups the right to unionize. Supporters of the bill argue it gives two groups of under-paid workers the ability better their working conditions by bargaining with the state.
But opponents say Malloy overstepped his authority when he set a process in motion that legislature had previously rejected when it decided not to move forward with legislation last year.
Both sides of the argument showed up with enough numbers Tuesday to force the hearing to be relocated to a larger room.
Though the executive orders were signed last year, the issue seems to have come to a head recently. Just last week a constitutional advocacy group filed a lawsuit against Malloy for the orders. Fergus Cullen, executive director of the Yankee Institute has said he also plans to sue the governor over the issue.
Meanwhile, SEIU Director Paul Filson has come under fire after an opponent of the unionization process secretly recorded him speaking at meeting. Filson’s comments were spliced together in a way that suggests SEIU is pushing the unionization process for increased dues and political clout. That recording has been making the rounds on former Gov. John Rowland’s conservative afternoon radio show.
Filson said whoever edited the audio track left out his explanation of how the union uses its membership dues to help its members, something he called “despicable, dishonest, and disingenuous.”
“I was trying to be as honest as I could be, I had no idea I was being recorded,” he said. “They secretly recorded me and plucked and picked things out of context and then played it on the radio.”
The edited audio seems to support the arguments of Rep. Rob Sampson, R- Wolcott, whose testimony to the committee suggested neither group actually wanted to unionize.
“Neither the daycare providers nor the personal care attendants asked for this. To the contrary this unionization process has come from a national effort that is being played out in several states,” he said.
Jamie Lazaroff, a self advocate coordinator for The Arc of Quinebaug Valley and The Arc of Connecticut, said he too opposes the bill.
“It is very disconcerting to me and many families that we had no say in any of these decisions,” he told the committee. “We feel like the low man on the totem pole and always getting dumped on. My workers, who have been with me for a long time and whom I have built a relationship with, never asked for the union to come in.”
But supporters who attended the hearing said their hoping collective bargaining rights will help sort out a myriad of issues they can’t fix alone. Michael Haughton, a personal care attendant from Newington, said he hopes the union make changes to unemployment laws. He said he watched his hourly wage drop an entire dollar when one of his clients’ other PCAs left.
“Once that person filed for unemployment, the way to pay for it was to take money from each of the working personal care attendants,” he said.
Greg McCloud, another home care attendant, said he had the same thing happen.
“I have no mechanism to fight that. None at all and it’s wrong,” he said.
Cassandra Parkman said she wanted medical benefits. Currently she works as a personal care attendant for 51 hours a week, but because she works for multiple clients she doesn’t receive healthcare benefits. Workers should have access to medical benefits especially in a field where non-fatal injuries are common, she said.
However, some clients of home care workers testified against the measure. Brendan Sniffin, a father of special needs woman in Danbury, was concerned that if the attendants collectively bargained better benefits, it would leave less money for services.
“Our daughter’s budget is set by the state. Any dues or fees taken from this would adversely affect the resources available for consumers’ care,” he said. “Where is all this money going to come from?”
The bill’s language does prevent any contract from resulting in “a reduction in the services provided by personal care attendants to consumers or a reduction in Medicaid funds provided to the state.”
But Malloy’s budget does not include an increase in funding for the Medicaid waiver the disabled apply for in order to receive the maximum 25 hours of care per week.
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, said no matter how much the clients love their PCA’s they can’t hire them for 40 hours a week.
“They deserve the right to bargain over that,” Tercyak said.
He said this bill won’t take away the client’s right to hire and fire PCA’s as they see fit.
It also doesn’t mean, “people will get paid more for providing fewer hours of care,” he added.
Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, told Tercyak that he respects his beliefs, but thinks this starts the state down a “slippery slope.”
He said it started with an executive order, but now the legislature is looking to certify what the governor has already put into motion and “it’s not a good idea.”