Why did majority Democrats ignore Sen. Kane’s warnings? (The Day Editorial)

July 15, 2015

State legislature tried to reward nursing home union workers
Published July 12. 2015

The Day Editorial

You may not have even noticed the $13 million the General Assembly quietly set aside in its $40.3 billion budget to assist low-paid nursing home workers. But it’s worthy of our attention because of what more it tells us about the body’s Democratic majority.

The formula used to distribute the millions called for $9 million to go to workers in 60 unionized homes and just $4 million to the 170 homes whose workers are not members of SEIU 1199, the powerful union representing nursing home workers and a strong supporter of the Democratic Party.

The message seemed clear: Join the union and you’ll get more money. The shocking part was the source, a legislature that is allegedly neutral in labor-management relations. These are, after all, privately owned businesses.

A Republican amendment calling for an even split between union and non-union homes failed in a party line vote and the blatantly unfair allocation became part of the budget.

Democratic leaders ignored calls for equity, preferring to play favorites on behalf of a union whose help they will welcome in next year’s election. They also ignored warnings from Republican Sen. Bob Kane who said the split appeared to be a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

Senator Kane’s observation was met with disdain from the co-chair of the budget writing Appropriations Committee, Sen. Beth Bye, who explained that the committee had had its lawyers carefully craft language that would avoid violating federal law.

But just two days after the funding formula passed, the governor’s Office of Policy and Management announced, “Nursing home funding would need to be distributed based on a formula that treats all nursing homes equally as required under federal regulations and guidance.” So much for committee lawyers and their careful crafting that apparently did not include a careful reading of the law. The Department of Social Services will now adjust the individual allocations to each nursing home, without regard for its union affiliation.

Senator Bye and other legislators had also indicated the distribution favoring unionized homes was needed to avoid strikes. SEIU 1199 was ready to go on strike earlier this year, but the union had postponed the action to see if the legislature would provide funds for raises.

But this explanation raises questions about the propriety of legislators becoming a part of contract negotiations between labor and management.

And so, regardless of the OPM’s quick reversal, this was a sorry performance by majority party lawmakers who are again showing us they may have been in power, the kind that corrupts, for too long.