Two of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s executive orders came under increased fire this week as two new lawsuits, funded by the conservative Yankee Institute, are being filed in Superior Court.
The lawsuits allege that Malloy’s executive orders permitting home care assistants and daycare workers to unionize and collectively bargain violate state and federal labor laws and the state’s constitution.
Two weeks ago a constitution advocacy group based in Waterbury called We The People of Connecticut also sued the governor and challenged the constitutionality of the executive orders.
The Malloy administration has been dismissive of the lawsuits. The governor’s Chief Legal Counsel Andrew McDonald said the first lawsuit seemed to be “political hyperbole,” lacking a recognizable legal theory.
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said the new complaints were an attempt by the Yankee Institute to push its conservative agenda.
“The Yankee Institute is a right-wing organization, it’s funded by right-wing special interests, and not surprisingly, it’s pursuing a right-wing, radical agenda. This lawsuit is simply a manifestation of all that,” he said.
However, the group is willing to spend a considerable amount of money on the complaints, which they said are tailored to be heard in the Supreme Court. Fergus Cullen, the institute’s executive director, anticipated spending tens of thousands of dollars on a trial and the appeals he expects from the governor’s office.
“This is a significant financial commitment for us,” he said after a Capitol Thursday press conference.
The lawsuits name a number of plaintiffs including a personal assistance worker association and two state lawmakers. Attorney Joseph Summa said the two complaints aren’t identical in language but make similar points. Both call for the court to void the executive orders and halt any action from the working groups they created.
Summa said Malloy usurped the legislature’s constitutional authority to make laws, violating the constitutional separation of powers.
The legislature has put in place a number of labor laws that cover small employers like daycare providers and the clients who employ personal care attendants, he said. Those laws preempt the governor’s orders, Summa said.
“The governor has exceeded his authority. This is a separation of powers issue,” he said.
Cathy Ludlum, a Manchester resident with spinal muscular atrophy who employs personal care attendants, said Malloy and SEIU violated the rights of the people who work for her.
“Certainly workers should have the right to organize, but they should also have the right to say no to unionization efforts,” she said.
The lawsuit alleges that the right to not associate for purposes of lobbying the government is implicit in the First Amendment.
“Executive Order No. 10 although couched in ‘collective bargaining terms’ in reality is simply state mandated political representation,” the lawsuit said.
Rep. Rob Sampson and Sen. Joseph Markley, plaintiff’s of the lawsuit who have been decrying the executive orders for months, agreed.
“This is an attempt from the top down, from the governor’s office to force these folks into a union,” Sampson said. “… They did not ask for this.”
Sampson pointed to Tuesday’s Labor Committee meeting when the committee failed to pass bills that would have given the groups bargaining rights before its deadline. Last year the Senate tabled two similar bills.
“This is the second time this legislature has sent a message that it does not have the will to proceed with making this union a reality,” he said. “I think the governor should really seriously consider cutting his losses and rescinding the executive orders.”
However, daycare workers who receive state funding through the Care 4 Kids program voted 1603 to 88 in December for CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 to represent them. A union election is currently underway among personal care attendants.
Deborah Chernoff, spokeswoman for SEIU 1199, said she’s confident the vast majority of home care workers will vote for representation. She objected to claims that the unionization will be forced.
“That’s typical rhetoric borrowed wholesale from people who don’t think workers should have a voice,” she said. “We think the appropriate thing to do is let people vote.”
But Summa said the executive orders that allowed them to vote violated the equal protection clauses in the state and federal constitution. The orders only applied to a small group of workers within both categories, but the working groups Malloy established will make recommendations that could impact everyone, he said.
“It has set up a scheme whereby some people have a voice and other people don’t, but they’re all going to be impacted by it,” he said.
Speaking to reporters later in the day, Malloy defended his executive orders, which he said helped a group of people who are employed but classified differently.
“I believe that people have been denied the right to organize by a legal subterfuge calling them independent contractors when they were being told what hour to arrive, what hour to leave, how to do their work, their wages were set. That’s an employment situation,” he said.
The executive orders don’t require anyone to organize, they only require they have the right to if they want, he said. Malloy said he understood Markley didn’t want that to happen.
“In fact there’s a whole political party in this country that doesn’t want that to happen,” he said.
Click here to read the lawsuit filed on behalf of the homecare workers.