In an effort to codify two controversial executive orders, the House spent six hours Friday debating a bill that would allow personal care attendants and daycare workers to collectively bargain with the state.
The bill was a strike-all amendment because the actual bills that would have allowed these two groups to bargain with the state died in the Labor and Public Employees Committee. The new legislation passed mostly along party lines, 84-57, with eight Democrats voting against the measure.
The debate pitted Republicans against pro-union Democrats.
“Sometimes there’s many people out there that say they just don’t like unions, don’t want to belong to unions,” Rep. Zeke Zalaski, D-Southington, said.
But Zalaski, who belongs to a union himself, said a union gives him a voice.
“Right now they don’t have any voice,” Zalaski said. “That’s what this bill is all about.”
Currently, these two groups of people don’t have the ability to bargain for better salaries and benefits with an employer, which in this case is the state.
“It’s embarrassing. This bill is embarrassing,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said. “Do these childcare providers and personal care assistants provide a necessary service? You bet they do. You bet they do. And if we don’t have the courage to recognize that and pay them appropriately and train them then shame on us.
“So what are we doing with this bill? If we believe it’s right to pay more money, than let’s do that,” Cafero said, arguing that there is no need for a union for these workers.
Cafero offered an amendment that would increase the funding to the two groups by $13 million and set aside $2 million for training. The amendment failed.
If there’s no money because the state is running a deficit, then there’s little hope these groups will be able to get more payment, Cafero said.
Personal care attendants are paid through a Medicaid waiver system and receive about $8.25 to $22 per hour based on which population they may be serving. Daycare providers who receive money through the Care 4 Kids program make anywhere between $89 to $173 per child, per week, depending upon where their daycare is located.
Earlier in the day, the halls of the Capitol were filled with both proponents and opponents of the legislation.
Pat Tyler, whose daughter has a developmental disability and uses direct care supporters, said she wants her daughter’s workers to be well paid, but forming a union isn’t the right solution. She said she understands the need for a union to negotiate against a big corporation where everyone is working in the same environment, but these groups of personal care attendants and daycare providers are not large institutions.
“We’re talking about mom and pop daycare providers in little houses and people in individual settings with developmental disabilities. It’s really hard to equate that that’s a union world,” Tyler said.
She said that since institutions are on the downturn the unions must be desperate to keep their membership up. She said these are the same unions, by the way, that have supported institutionalization for developmentally disabled individuals.
“I don’t agree with them controlling the workforce. I don’t agree with them setting the wages and I don’t agree with them deciding the benefits,” Tyler said. “It puts another layer between us.
“Why don’t they just pay them more?” Tyler said.
Deborah Chernoff, spokeswoman for SEIU District 1199, said personal care attendants are limited 25 hours a week per client currently because if they worked more than that the client would need to start paying into the workers compensation system. Creating a union would help resolve that issue, she said.
She said the group will not be able to negotiate anything but wages and benefits and working condition grievances won’t be allowed under the legislation. She said it doesn’t interfere with the relationship between the personal care attendants and their clients.
Hartford resident Imla Eubanks, who has kidney and heart problems, used a personal care attendant to help her out around the house. She said her personal care attendant “needs a voice.” She also needs more money, more hours, vacation time, and sick time.
“They don’t allow her to work more than 25 hours with any one client,” Eubanks said. “And she doesn’t get paid when I’m in the hospital.”
Briana Fernandez, 19, has been a personal care attendant for three years now and she said she doesn’t know many other personal care attendants, so it’s difficult to find new clients.
She estimated that there are more than 7,000 personal care attendants in the state and that none of them have training or health insurance. She said she had to miss a week of work because she got the flu and was unable to get paid or get better because she couldn’t see a doctor without health insurance.
“If I can’t put food on table and take care of myself, then how am I going to be able to take care of someone else,” Fernandez said.
Some members of the two groups have already agreed to join SEIU District 1199 and CSEA/SEIU Local 2001. But the two executive orders and the mail-in ballot process is being challenged in court by two conservative groups.
Several lawmakers who opposed the bill offered questions seeking legislative intent, which would help their court case.
The bill now goes to the Senate.