Republicans, Advocates React to Home Health Care Worker Court Decision [CT News Junkie]

July 2, 2014

by Hugh McQuaid | CT News Junkie

Hugh McQuaid Photo – Cathy Ludlum

Republican lawmakers and advocates for disabled people called upon the state Tuesday to halt plans to collect union fees from home health care workers in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The high court’s decision in Harris v Quinn found that home health care workers in Illinois paid through Medicaid can not be forced to pay fees to the union representing them.

State officials, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen, are reviewing the case to determine what impact it will have on Connecticut’s recently-formed home health care workers union.

But opponents of the controversial unionization process seized Tuesday on the ruling. They called upon the state to stop plans to begin collecting union dues and what is called “agency fees” from workers who chose not to join the union but have nonetheless been represented by it in collective bargaining negotiations.

“Were this not to happen yesterday, union dues and agency fees would start coming out of my employees’ paychecks,” said Cathy Ludlum, a Manchester resident with spinal muscular atrophy who employs personal care attendants. “What we are asking for, to answer your question, is [the application of union fees] be rescinded immediately so that they don’t take that hit starting in two weeks,”

Ludlum was a plaintiff to an unsuccessful lawsuit that challenged Malloy’s executive orders which began the process leading to the health care workers’ unionization. Ludlum and others argued the order amounted to “forced unionization” of some workers.

Joe Summa, the attorney who represented Ludlum and others in the lawsuit, called upon Malloy and Jepsen to proactively halt the agency fees.

“Hopefully, Cathy and her group won’t be forced to fight anymore and have to go to court to force the state to do this,” Summa said.

Both offices said Tuesday they are still reviewing the ruling.

For the time being, the union, SEIU District 1199, views the Supreme Court ruling as specific to the program in Illinois. Here in Connecticut, SEIU has already negotiated a collective bargaining agreement for the health care workers that includes pay increases. Coincidentally, that contract went into effect Tuesday.

Jennifer Schneider, a spokeswoman for SEIU District 1199, said the plan is still to begin collecting the fees on schedule.

It is unclear whether the ruling will eventually preclude them from doing that. In that case, workers who elected to be part of the union would still be free to pay the organization’s dues but all others would get the representation of the union without paying it.

At an unrelated event Tuesday, Rep. Peter Tercyak, co-chairman of the legislature’s Labor Committee, called the Supreme Court decision a ruling “against regular people.” But Tercyak said lawmakers could adapt Connecticut’s law to work around the decision.

“They have not yet taken away the state’s ability to pass our own laws and change our laws when they make it harder for good things to happen. Should this be decided to affect Connecticut workers, then we’ll just damn well fix it,” Tercyak said. “We will look at it and figure out how to get it done so that it meets the Supreme Court’s latest ridiculous test or hurdle.”

Meanwhile, Republican state Rep. Rob Sampson, of Wolcott, and Republican state Sen. Joe Markley, of Southington, are hoping the legislature takes the opportunity to revoke that law that codified Malloy’s executive order and allowed the group to begin collectively bargaining.

“Ultimately what’s going to happen here is we are going to give choice back to these people to decide whether they want to be in a union or not and whether the union is worth paying the dues,” Sampson said.

The union objects to the notion that anyone was forced to become part of the organization. In an email, 1199 member Terrell Williams said the home health care employees worked hard to become part of the union.

“I see being part of a union as a privilege. Home care workers put a lot of work in to form this union so we can have a voice and the issues that are important to us are heard. We are on the work sites every day, not elected officials, and we have the right to decide what is best for us and the people we care for,” he said.