State Delays Collection of Union Fees [CT News Junkie]

July 21, 2014

Article as it appeared on CT News Junkie

Plans to begin collecting representation fees for a recently-formed home health care workers union have been put on ice while state officials grapple with a Supreme Court ruling that may have made those fees illegal.

“The union requested that the state not collect agency fees given the uncertainty created by the recent Supreme Court decision, Harris v. Quinn,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday. “We agreed with the union’s request and no agency fees will be collected from individuals covered by the collective bargaining agreement.”

The high court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn in late June 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 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.

Dues and representation fees for workers who elected not to join the union were scheduled to kick in for the first time Friday for some workers and next week for others. Doba said union dues will be collected as previously planned.

The move will reduce income to the union, at least until a final call has been made on whether the Connecticut organization can collect agency fees in spite of the high court’s ruling on the Illinois union.

Jennifer Schneider, a spokeswoman for SEIU 1199 New England, said there are about 6,500 home health care workers in the bargaining unit on behalf of which the union has negotiated. Schneider estimated that around 2,500 had chosen to become members of the union, but said it was difficult to know for sure because the organization had not yet collected dues.

The union already has negotiated raises for the health care workers. Those hourly increases are scheduled to kick in during the same period that the fees were to be subtracted. Workers also are scheduled to receive a different check for back pay because the raises are retroactive to January, Schneider said.

The Attorney General’s Office is still reviewing the court decision, according to spokesperson Jaclyn Falkowski. That means there is no official word on whether the ruling will permanently preclude the union from collecting the fees. Even if a determination is made, Falkowski said it may not be shared with the public.

“Absent a request for a formal opinion, our ability to publicly discuss any legal advice or conclusions provided to client agencies may be circumscribed by the attorney-client privilege,” she said.

SEIU initially characterized the ruling as narrow in scope and impacting only Illinois workers, but opponents quickly seized on the decision, calling on Malloy and Jepsen to proactively halt the implementation of the agency fees.

Soon after Malloy signed executive orders setting the unionization process in motion during his first year in office, a group of conservative lawmakers and advocates for disabled people filed a lawsuit challenging what they called “forced unionization.”

The lawsuit was tossed by a Connecticut court after the legislature reaffirmed Malloy’s executive orders, but Sen. Joe Markley, a Southington Republican who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the high court ruling accomplishes its objective.

“It doesn’t seem to me there’s any uncertainty, it seems to me the ruling of the court was clear these agency fees cannot be collected in this case . . . I don’t know what further clarification they need besides a ruling of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Joe Summa, the attorney who represented Markley and the other plaintiffs, agreed. He said Connecticut’s union has been set up under “exactly the same” legal framework and principles as the Illinois program, which the court struck down.

If Connecticut eventually decides the court decision precludes the collection of agency fees permanently, SEIU political director Paul Filson said the union will step up an outreach effort to convince more members of the bargaining unit to become dues-paying members of the union.

When asked about the decision two weeks ago, Filson pointed to SEIU’s work in right-to-work states where government workers are allowed to opt out of labor union membership and dues. He said SEIU is “a strong union in those states too.”

Filson continued: “So that’s how we’ll approach it, but it’s not fair. When we’re the exclusive representative for these workers, the right to not contribute to our representation, to us getting raises for folks, it isn’t fair. It’s frankly a right-wing tactic to basically take money out of the only opposition corporations have in this country. If they can destroy the unions, there’s no opposition to anti-worker legislation, anti-worker politicians who get elected. We’re it.”