State care workers in line for collective-bargaining rights

Hartford - After hours of late-night debate this week in the Senate, the General Assembly has passed legislation to give collective-bargaining rights to certain state-paid child care workers and home health care aides.

The bill extends the ability to negotiate over pay and benefits to two groups of workers that are paid through state programs and serve low and moderate-income individuals or families: the roughly 4,100 child care workers in the Care 4 Kids program and an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 personal care attendants who assist the elderly and disabled.

The Senate voted 22 to 14 Thursday along party lines to pass the legislation, which last month cleared the House 84-57.

Republicans, largely opposed to the unionization measure, took turns Thursday night criticizing the bill's provisions and attempting a series of failed amendments.

Proponents argued that bargaining rights would help the workers, who generally have low salaries and no benefits.

"Granting these workers a voice will in the long run improve their lives and the lives of the people they serve," said Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia. "They don't, to my knowledge, have any kind of benefits. (The bill) would allow them to bargain for health benefits."

Prague also spoke strongly in support of the child care workers. "Some of them make $3 an hour. It's a pretty tough job. It's a big responsibility taking care of people's children," she said.

But critics said full unionization could raise costs for the state programs and possibly result in service cuts while not necessarily benefiting the individual workers, who would be compelled to pay either union dues or an agency fee out of their earnings.

"They will be forced, whether they want to or not, to pay a charge to the union for the representation," said Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, a leading opponent of the bill.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to sign the bill.

Malloy set in motion the unionization process last September through two executive orders that allowed the two groups of workers to organize, but without full collective-bargaining rights.

Markley is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the executive orders.

Since the fall, the Care 4 Kids workers have voted to join CSEA/SEIU Local 2001. The personal care attendants elected to join New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU.

j.reindl@theday.com

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