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Collective Bargaining Hearing Draws Large Crowds

by Hugh McQuaid | Mar 13, 2012 10:15pm
(12) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Labor, Legal, Nonprofits, State Capitol

Hugh McQuaid photo

Jamie Lazaroff, self advocate coordinator for The Arc of Quinebaug Valley and The Arc of Connecticut, on the right. Debbie Barisano, founder of the Connecticut Association of Personal Assistance, on the left

Tuesday’s Labor and Public Employees Committee public hearing was a packed house over two bills that would give home care assistants and daycare workers the right to collectively bargain benefits with the state.

The bills have been a heated issue ever since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed two executive orders giving the groups the right to unionize. Supporters of the bill argue it gives two groups of under-paid workers the ability better their working conditions by bargaining with the state.

But opponents say Malloy overstepped his authority when he set a process in motion that legislature had previously rejected when it decided not to move forward with legislation last year.

Both sides of the argument showed up with enough numbers Tuesday to force the hearing to be relocated to a larger room.

Though the executive orders were signed last year, the issue seems to have come to a head recently. Just last week a constitutional advocacy group filed a lawsuit against Malloy for the orders. Fergus Cullen, executive director of the Yankee Institute has said he also plans to sue the governor over the issue.

Meanwhile, SEIU Director Paul Filson has come under fire after an opponent of the unionization process secretly recorded him speaking at meeting. Filson’s comments were spliced together in a way that suggests SEIU is pushing the unionization process for increased dues and political clout. That recording has been making the rounds on former Gov. John Rowland’s conservative afternoon radio show.

Filson said whoever edited the audio track left out his explanation of how the union uses its membership dues to help its members, something he called “despicable, dishonest, and disingenuous.”

“I was trying to be as honest as I could be, I had no idea I was being recorded,” he said. “They secretly recorded me and plucked and picked things out of context and then played it on the radio.”

The edited audio seems to support the arguments of Rep. Rob Sampson, R- Wolcott, whose testimony to the committee suggested neither group actually wanted to unionize.

“Neither the daycare providers nor the personal care attendants asked for this. To the contrary this unionization process has come from a national effort that is being played out in several states,” he said.

Jamie Lazaroff, a self advocate coordinator for The Arc of Quinebaug Valley and The Arc of Connecticut, said he too opposes the bill.

“It is very disconcerting to me and many families that we had no say in any of these decisions,” he told the committee. “We feel like the low man on the totem pole and always getting dumped on. My workers, who have been with me for a long time and whom I have built a relationship with, never asked for the union to come in.”

But supporters who attended the hearing said their hoping collective bargaining rights will help sort out a myriad of issues they can’t fix alone. Michael Haughton, a personal care attendant from Newington, said he hopes the union make changes to unemployment laws. He said he watched his hourly wage drop an entire dollar when one of his clients’ other PCAs left.

“Once that person filed for unemployment, the way to pay for it was to take money from each of the working personal care attendants,” he said.

Greg McCloud, another home care attendant, said he had the same thing happen.

“I have no mechanism to fight that. None at all and it’s wrong,” he said.

Cassandra Parkman said she wanted medical benefits. Currently she works as a personal care attendant for 51 hours a week, but because she works for multiple clients she doesn’t receive healthcare benefits. Workers should have access to medical benefits especially in a field where non-fatal injuries are common, she said.

However, some clients of home care workers testified against the measure. Brendan Sniffin, a father of special needs woman in Danbury, was concerned that if the attendants collectively bargained better benefits, it would leave less money for services.

“Our daughter’s budget is set by the state. Any dues or fees taken from this would adversely affect the resources available for consumers’ care,” he said. “Where is all this money going to come from?”

The bill’s language does prevent any contract from resulting in “a reduction in the services provided by personal care attendants to consumers or a reduction in Medicaid funds provided to the state.”

But Malloy’s budget does not include an increase in funding for the Medicaid waiver the disabled apply for in order to receive the maximum 25 hours of care per week.

Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, said no matter how much the clients love their PCA’s they can’t hire them for 40 hours a week.

“They deserve the right to bargain over that,” Tercyak said.

He said this bill won’t take away the client’s right to hire and fire PCA’s as they see fit.

It also doesn’t mean, “people will get paid more for providing fewer hours of care,” he added.

Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, told Tercyak that he respects his beliefs, but thinks this starts the state down a “slippery slope.”

He said it started with an executive order, but now the legislature is looking to certify what the governor has already put into motion and “it’s not a good idea.”

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(12) Comments

posted by: wglomb | March 14, 2012  1:23am

The unedited segment is available at

http://family-empowerment.weebly.com/uploads/7/3/8/6/7386076/seiu_statement.mp3
(3:20 minute, 3.1 MB, MP3 audio file)

This recording was made in a public forum held by the Governor’s Personal Care Attendant Quality Home Care Workforce Council. If Mr.Filson had no idea that he was being recorded, he at least should have known that he was speaking in the public square. Publication of his comments at such an assembly is hardly despicable, dishonest or disingenuous.

posted by: Upset.Citizen | March 14, 2012  6:30am

Upset.Citizen

I am a member of SEIU/CSEA 2001 - P4.   

R U N !!!!

This is a deal with the devil!  They will take your money and treat you like you work for them!  Their biggest achievement to date this year was organizing members to block a highway on ramp.  (Those members got arrested! - That’s what this union did for them!)  You will have no say in what they do with that money and any issues that come up will not be addressed.  If you speak out or want to change union representation they will bring you up on charges and punish you!

posted by: Mansfield1 | March 14, 2012  10:59am

The fact that the audio tape was edited to leave out some important elements is standard right wing fare.  So at least listen to the whole thing.  It was fascinating to watch the tea bagger politicians in the legislature try to make sure that the underpaid and the the disabled duke it out over crumbs.

posted by: jiddum | March 14, 2012  11:32am

These workers are caring for some of our most vulnerable citizens- children, the elderly, and the disabled. You would think society would value them highly and respect their right to have a voice on the job. You would think this difficult, strenuous, and absolutely essential job would be rewarded with excellent benefits and a living wage salary at the very least. Instead you have those responsible for coordinating the DENIAL of care raking in millions per year (see Aetna’s CEO’s 25% increase in salary last year), while those doing the difficult work of meeting the health and daily care needs of our most vulnerable being held down at the lowest rungs of society. Is this fair? How can ANYONE who cares at all about their fellow human beings stand in the way of these workers joining together to improve not only their lives, but also the lives of their clients? After all workers who cannot afford to get their own health care needs met are less able to meet their clients’ needs. At the end of the day, though, this is about basic fairness and the right to be treated with dignity on the job. A job to my mind that is among the most important in our society. It’s time to take a serious look at our values and our priorities.

posted by: Palin Smith | March 14, 2012  1:05pm

The SEIU packed the room with lots of out-of-staters, from as far away as Washington State. Their “experts” from places like Berkley talked about studies and spoke at length, putting many people to sleep.

One woman from Bristol erased all the union nonsense with her heart-felt personal experiences.

http://youtu.be/lW0mgBxPy6s

posted by: Palin Smith | March 14, 2012  1:09pm

When unions get involved jobs disappear.

posted by: RickmanJ | March 14, 2012  1:15pm

It’s always fun when the SEIU Communications persons weigh in on this issue and start throwing around all the union red herrings about “dignity” and “respect” and “fairness” for home care workers—the same folks who will use any slimy perversion of the law and the truth to trick home care workers into signing cards and voting for SEIU; who will use sneaky backroom deals and bought politicians and officials to get the job done; who will spend more on spinning the story than they ever will actually helping members all so SEIU fat cats can stay employed and push their pet political agenda.
Disgusting.

posted by: wglomb | March 14, 2012  1:16pm

These are Medicaid services with budgets and rates controlled by the State of Connecticut. The state can increase budgets and rates at any time - and every year we stand with our workers asking the Appropriations Committee for more money.  The current bill does not increase wages and it does not provide benefits.  I will be the first to support a bill that actually increases pay and benefits for these workers.  This bill does not do that.

posted by: Clark | March 14, 2012  2:31pm

This is an expanding and important area of health care in the future.  The workers in it will play a crucial role in the nature of the services provided.  Their current ability to express their views and concerns is - unlike most other workers - blocked by their lack of rights to organize for their common concerns.  As a unionized health care worker I know that a voice in what goes on is always better than no voice at all.  Apparently that threatens some people.  But the status quo of low and sometimes arbitrary pay rates, no benefits, high worker turnover, potential for injury (without the right to workers comp), inability to get enough work hours to make ends meet, and uncertainty in obtaining work from month to month are negatively impacting both the workers and the provision of care.  It will not go away just because a few people say it isn’t so and campaign to scare others into believing it.

posted by: Stephen Mendelsohn | March 14, 2012  4:51pm

Cathy Ludlum delivered some of the best testimony of the evening against HB 5433. The bullying tactics SEIU has used in their organizing drives need to be fully exposed.

posted by: rankandfile | March 14, 2012  5:30pm

As a union member myself, my heart goes out to these people who are being forced to join. I saw first hand the lying, self serving nature of the national mega-unions during the state concession talks. Back room deals, hidden attachments, universal health care agenda, by laws waived, by laws changed, re-votes, large scale propoganda campaigns, misinformation, threats, maneuvers to prevent members having free choice in which union they belong to, the list is nearly endless.

posted by: RickmanJ | March 14, 2012  8:01pm

Hey, Clark.  I don’t for a minute believe anyone is concerned with homecare workers having a voice or even organizing around their concerns.  They are concerned with the sneaky despicable methods of SEIU here and across the country in their “organizing” of home care workers.
Homecare workers need a voice?  You bet and that could be accomplished without forcing all of them to pay dues to SEIU.

A few ideas—maybe those homecare workers interested in being saved by SEIU could willingly join on their own!  Or how about this—SEIU fights for HC workers with some of the loose change they collected from homecare workers in other states!  Heaven knows there has to be tens of millions in homecare dollars—enough for SEIU to advocate for homecare workers in all fifty states and the territories!