State health-aide law faces uncertainty

July 2, 2014


HARTFORD — Whatever else the U.S. Supreme Court decision’s on home-health aides holds for Connecticut, Cathy Ludlum says she feels back in charge as an employer of 11 personal care assistants.

Yet, Ludlum acknowledged that the 5-4 ruling in the Illinois case does not undo Connecticut’s decision to allow personal care assistants who are paid through the Medicaid program to unionize.

This is what she and other opponents of unionization ultimately want. They also want to reverse a related decision that allowed child care workers paid through the state’s Care 4 Kids program to unionize.

“This ruling does not go that far. What it does say is individuals cannot be forced to pay for the union,” said Joseph Summa, a Waterbury lawyer who represented Ludlum and other employers of personal care assistants in a state lawsuit against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The majority of the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that Illinois could not require home care workers to pay fees that help cover a union’s costs of collective bargaining.

In Connecticut, opponents of permitting home health aides and child care workers to join unions are hoping many will opt against paying union dues or representation fees.

Rep. Robert C. Sampson, R-Wolcott, and Sen. Joseph C. Markley, R-16th District, said these workers should not have been allowed to unionize in the first place.

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

Opponents repeatedly used the term “forced unionization” in deriding the actions that Malloy and the legislature’s Democratic majority took.

But home care workers voted 1,225 to 365 to join District 1199 of the New England Health Care Employees Union, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

The American Arbitration Association mailed between 6,600 and 6,700 ballots to personal care attendants asking whether they wanted to join District 1199.

The nearly 4,100 workers in the Care 4 Kids program serve approximately 3,560 children from low-income families. Child-care workers voted 1,603 to 88 to join CSEA/SEIU Local 2001.

Rep. Peter A. Tercyak, D-New Britain, assailed the Supreme Court’s decision, saying the conservative majority got it wrong .

“Should this be decided to affect Connecticut workers, then we’ll just damn well fix it,” said Tercyak, House chairman of the Labor and Public Employees Committee.

He said lawmakers will have ample time to review the Supreme Court’s ruling and craft legislation to protect the collective bargaining rights of home-health aides and child-care workers.

“If we need to tweak this law to make sure that it passes muster, then we can,” Tercyak said.

Malloy signed two executive orders in 2011 that permitted the two groups of targeted workers to organize and bargain collectively three months after unionization legislation died in the General Assembly.

Opponents of the orders sued in Superior Court seeking to have the governor’s directives rescinded.

They claimed the orders violate state and federal labor laws and the state and federal constitutions.

In October 2012, Judge James T. Graham dismissed the case, ruling that the three consolidated lawsuits were moot because the legislature and Malloy approved a public act earlier that year that ratified and superseded the orders. The state Appellate Court upheld that ruling.