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Letter: Lawmaker Opposes a Caregivers Union

WILTON, Conn. — The following is a letter from State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, on how the public deserves an explanation on why the state Legislature created a union.

The state House of Representatives has just passed a bill that would create a new class of unionized employees paid by the state. HB 5312 gives collective bargaining rights to two groups of independent workers: personal home care attendants (PCAs), who serve people who are elderly, ill, or disabled, and children’s daycare providers. This legislation has elicited impassioned objections among the people served by both groups.

There are significant disadvantages, and no discernible benefits, for PCA and daycare clients. If the objective is to raise the caregivers’ wages, that could be done by a General Assembly vote to appropriate funds without making the workers pay the costs of unionization. The reasons for introducing, let alone passing, this legislation are unclear.

The workers covered by HB 5312, including about 6,000 daycare providers and as many as 20,000 PCAs, receive state subsidies. The bill would allow them to bargain collectively for their subsidized wages, but not for health benefits or pensions. Although the bill suggests that they wouldn’t become state employees, it makes government agencies their “employers” for the purposes of collective bargaining. It also allows the unions to deduct dues from state funds that would otherwise be used to pay for services for children and individuals who need home care. The bill stipulates that any election to form a union or to choose union representatives will not be secret, but instead be conducted by mail ballot, exposing workers to threats and pressures to unionize.

The most alarming aspect of this bill is that it leaves the clients of both groups of workers out in the cold. They fear they will get less service for their money as it's siphoned away for union dues and that they won't be able to direct how their dollars will be spent. As one constituent with a severely disabled child wrote to me, "It's difficult to make our dollars stretch for the things we must do to have as normal as life as possible. The last thing people with disabilities, their families, and their direct caregivers need is an organization getting in the middle, filtering out dollars earmarked to help people with disabilities lead self-determined lives."

Constituents have also reported that caregivers they employ have been pressured to become union members. Even PCAs and daycare providers who support the bill are still concerned that union dues would offset any wage increase.

Also of note: before unionization was first proposed last year, caregivers were not asking for it. The proposals to unionize both groups first surfaced in two separate bills during the 2011 session. Both died before reaching either chamber. Despite this demonstrated resistance by the legislature’s majority, the governor reintroduced the subject last summer with two 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 unionization.

This year, after two new bills failed in the Labor Committee, both full unionization proposals were introduced in a single amendment to HB 5312. It was this amendment that was folded into the bill and passed last week. This means that not one committee had approved it before it passed in the House. Evidently, the urgency justified bypassing normal procedures. Why? Meanwhile, 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 membership will bring them more training and wage increases. The fact is, if the legislature believes they need an increase and training, it can legislate both by simply voting an additional appropriation. The caregivers don’t need a union to make this happen. It’s not as if the General Assembly is denying them more money. During the House debate, the Co-Chair of Labor said the bill was necessary because the workers needed higher wages. Why not then just give them the increase without making them organize to request it, at a cost that both the caregivers and their clients must struggle to pay?

Unionizing does not provide a clear benefit to either caregivers or those they serve, and is likely to have a severely negative impact on both. Since the legislature’s majority wants to pay caregivers more, it could easily do so. Yet instead of exercising its legitimate authority as the elected body representing the state’s broader population, it prefers to orchestrate a union-led outcry on behalf of two small groups. Delegating its job to surrogates is not what we expect of the General Assembly. The public deserves an explanation.

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