By State Representative Dan Carter (R-2)
Last Friday, the House of Representatives passed HB 5312, which gives collective bargaining rights to two new groups of independent workers: personal home care attendants (PCAs) and daycare providers.
This controversial legislation has raised objections among the people served by both groups, as well as serious misgivings among other groups and even among the legislators who eventually voted to pass the bill. This bill poses significant disadvantages for both PCAs and daycare clients – some of our neediest residents – and that is why I voted against this measure.
The workers affected by HB 5312 receive state subsidies, and include about 6,000 daycare providers and as many as 20,000 PCAs. Daycare providers are paid through the state’s Care 4 Kids program, and PCAs, who care for people who are elderly, ill, or disabled, are paid through state home care programs.
The bill would allow the two groups to bargain collectively for their subsidized wages, but not for health insurance, pension, working conditions or any other benefit. Although the bill suggests that they wouldn’t become state employees, it effectively makes government agencies their “employers” for the purposes of collective bargaining.
However, unionization also allows them to deduct dues from state funds that would otherwise be used to pay for services for children and individuals who need home care.
But perhaps the most troubling aspect of this bill is that it leaves the clients of both groups of workers out in the cold. They understandably fear they will get less service for their money as it will be siphoned away for union dues.
Constituents have also reported that caregivers they employ have been pressured to become union members. Many PCAs and daycare providers who support the bill are still concerned that union dues would offset whatever increase they might see in their wages.
It is also a real possibility that folks looking to hire caregivers could begin to purposely avoid union members with negotiated wages in favor of independent workers who would work for more affordable (and un-subsidized) wages. This creates a clear disadvantage for those workers who are put through the “union process.”
To unionize or not is a big decision that has major implications for these workers’ careers. However, very few of them had a say in the internal vote that both child care workers and PCAs conducted about whether or not unionization is the preferred path to go down.
Out of the 6,200 child care workers that receive subsidies from the state, only 1,691 participated in the vote – 1,603 yes and 88 no. Out of the 6,700 PCAs that receive subsidies from the state, 1,228 voted yes while 365 voted no, combining for a total 1,593 voting.
It seems unfair that such a large group of individuals will be forced to unionize given the small percentage of the total group who voted in favor of doing so. Even though workers have the option not to unionize, they are still required to pay a significant percentage of union dues to opt out, since they are deemed to be enjoying the same luxuries of union membership.
Moreover, before the unionization concept was first proposed last year, none of these workers were asking for it. The proposals to unionize both groups first surfaced in two separate bills during the 2011 session. Both died before reaching either the House or the Senate.
Despite the resistance of the General Assembly, the governor reintroduced the subject last summer with two controversial Executive Orders. While these did not grant collective bargaining rights to either group, they did give them the right to form unions and set up task forces to work on charting paths toward unionization.
This year, after two new bills failed to survive in the Labor Committee, both full unionization proposals were introduced through a single amendment to HB 5312. It was this amendment that was thrown into the bill and voted on last week. This means that not one committee had approved this proposal before it appeared in the House. Meanwhile, the constitutionality of the Governor’s Executive Orders are being challenged in court.
A number of PCAs and daycare providers who have already voted to join unions argue that union membership will bring them more training and wage increases. But the fact is, if the General Assembly believes they are due for an increase and for training, it can legislate both by simply voting an additional appropriation. The caregivers don’t need a union to make this happen.
This bill does not provide a clear benefit to either caregivers or those they serve, and is likely to have a negative impact on both. The General Assembly, with its majority advocating to pay caregivers more, could easily increase appropriations. Whatever the reason, it looks as though the legislative leadership and the Governor are choosing to pass the buck and encourage unionized workers to make their own demands instead of taking this opportunity to address the PCAs’ needs directly.
Please feel free to contact me at any time regarding this or any matter facing our community and state, at Dan.Carter@housegop.ct.gov or 860 240 8700.