Op-ed: Looking out for home care workers [Record Journal]

August 25, 2014

By Senator Joe Markley and Representative Rob Sampson | Record Journal

What makes our nation so special are the freedoms afforded to each and every one of us. We value these rights deeply, and are thankful to live in a country where everyone can speak their mind, voice their opinions and embrace their own beliefs.

That is why we have been so opposed to the forced unionization of personal care attendants (PCAs) and child care providers in Connecticut. We are pleased to see the Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU 1199) decision to respect that ruling and not collect fees from non-members.

We should all have the right to represent ourselves and advocate for our own needs. However, we should never be forced to join, support or allow a group to represent us if we disagree with that organization. Forcing non-union members to pay agency fees and thereby support union activities is not only outrageous, but also a direct violation of their First Amendment rights. That is why when a bill was proposed to do exactly this, mandating the creation of a union for home care workers in Connecticut, we spoke against it. And when our words fell on deaf ears, we took our fight to court.

Supporters of forced unionization have justified agency fees or so called “fair share” fees (the fees non-union members are required to pay) by touting that even non-members can still benefit from the activities of the union. However, what if a person does not agree with these activities? What if a person is against funding an organization that eats up such a significant amount of money? What if they would rather see those operating funds go into the programs serving people most in need instead?

In the case of the PCA union, it has been little surprise that many did not agree with their actions. First, the union was working to organize private employees and not state workers, and thereby interfering with private contracts, not to mention the personal relationship that personal care attendants share with the people they serve and take care of and who, incidentally, are their true employers.

Second, the union’s responsibility was limited to lobbying for additional money to be appropriated to the Medicaid waiver program. Of course, no union is required for that to happen. The legislature simply needs to choose to do so. This has been one of our major issues with this entire scheme from the beginning. Union dues would be taken from this pool of money as a reward for their “bargaining” with the state. Every dollar taken in union dues is a dollar taken from the care of someone who needs it and the paycheck of the person caring for them.

No one should be roped into supporting a union or being represented by one if they choose not to. It is true that many of these attendants are paid using state funding granted to individuals through Medicaid, but that does not change the fact that they are independent private employees, hired and managed by an individual. Workers have the right to speak up for their needs as employees, but it is improper for the government to step in and interfere with private employment arrangements that work for both employer and employee.
The United States Supreme Court knows this. Now Connecticut does too.

In the groundbreaking Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court ruling earlier this month, the court determined that PCAs in Illinois are not public employees and so they cannot be subject to fair-share dues. In light of this ruling, the union representing the personal care attendants in Connecticut (SEIU 1199) has halted collection of agency fees from non-union members. The union made the right decision here — legally, ethically and morally.

As the CT Attorney General now considers the impact of the Supreme Court case, we hope that Connecticut will move in the direction of upholding our freedoms and protecting people’s rights to make their own decisions.

State Senator Joe Markley represents the 16th Senatorial District including the communities of Cheshire, Prospect, Southington, Wolcott and Waterbury. State Representative Rob Sampson represents Connecticut’s 80th District including Wolcott and a portion of Southington.