The Senate gave final passage Thursday night to a bill extending collective bargaining rights to home and daycare workers paid through state programs. The bill passed on a party line vote after more than six hours of debate and 11 amendments.
The House passed the bill two weeks ago and it now heads to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk.
The executive orders that set the bill in motion have generated controversy since Malloy signed them last year. Three lawsuits have been filed in Superior Court alleging the governor overstepped his authority in issuing orders that they say amounts to the forced unionization of the groups.
Malloy’s executive orders created a pathway for the workers to form a union and both groups have since voted to do so.
Proponents of the bill argue that both groups are hardworking but low paid and deserve a collective voice to improve salaries and benefits.
“This bill represents a policy choice by the General Assembly that granting a voice to these workers will, in the long run, improve the lives of these people and the people they serve,” Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said.
The bill includes a provision aimed at ensuring services to clients aren’t impacted by the groups’ ability to negotiate terms with the state. Should either union bargain better wages for workers, the legislature would have to appropriate more money for the program that pays them.
“If it’s not appropriated they don’t get it. We the legislature have the final word,” Prague said.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said that reimbursement rates for early child care workers haven’t increased in 10 years.
“The fund has never gotten to the level where it’s supporting a living wage for people who work in child care,” Bye said.
Facilitating better training for the people who work with children when their brains are developing may help the state correct its worst-in-the-nation achievement gap, she said, adding that the state invests a lot of money in family child care without any quality controls.
“The ability to organize this disparate workforce that’s taking care of our youngest brains offers incredible opportunities in Connecticut,” Bye said.
Opponents objected to the process that led to the bill, as well as the policy it represents. Sen. Jason Welch said people who will be impacted by the bill weren’t part of the discussion, which took place in a back room somewhere.
“It was a little short sighted to not include them in the discussions,” Welch said, suggesting that this is probably why there has been such grassroots pushback against the legislation.
Welch said the workers the bill impacts don’t have the typical relationship with their employers. He questioned whether there were any other examples of unions bargaining with the state for workers who aren’t state employees.
“I have yet to be able to find a circumstance where we have done something like this in the state of Connecticut,” he said.
Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said he has been fighting the concept since last year when Manchester resident Cathy Ludlum, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, brought a similar bill to his attention.
“She said ‘neither I nor my attendants want to have a union come between us. We have a good relationship, we work things out for ourselves, and it’s not necessary,’” Markley said.
The bill was not passed last year, but Malloy’s executive orders set the process in motion anyway.
“I can hardly say how grave an error I believe those executive orders were,” he said. “I thought it was a definite case of overreach.”
Markley, a plaintiff on two of the lawsuits against Malloy, said he is now fighting the executive orders in the court system by challenging their constitutionality.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said he didn’t think there was really a demand among workers for union representation.
“We are inserting ourselves into a process that’s working now,” he said. “I guess there’s an old adage — if it works don’t fix it. That’s what we’re seeing here.”
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney argued that the unions would try to collectively bargain increased wages. The legislature should just set aside the money for better pay now, he said. McKinney offered an amendment which would have appropriated a total of $15 million for personal care attendants and child care workers.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said the purpose of the bill was to offer the two groups long-term benefits rather than a short-term pay increase. The amendment was defeated 20-14.