Has Gov. Malloy built a union bridge too far?
'I am your servant!"
So proclaimed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at a recent gathering of members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. Malloy bragged "We have more workers organized in the State of Connecticut because we changed the laws to make it happen…"
Well, Malloy did more than change laws, he issued executive orders under which the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) organized about 11,000 new private sector members.
You might ask why a public official is organizing private sector labor. You'd be asking precisely the right question.
Nevertheless, Malloy did exactly that via two executive orders issued in September 2011, one for in-home health aides (so-called personal care aides or PCAs) and one for in-home family child care providers (FCCPs).
Surprised? It gets stranger still.
None of these in-home workers are state employees, yet the two new SEIU unions negotiate their pay, benefits and work rules with state government officials - not their actual employers.
PCAs are hired by and work for elderly and disabled citizens, who pay them primarily with government health plan reimbursement monies. For that matter, FCCPs are not even employees; they are small-business owners, whose customers are low-income parents who pay for child care with welfare subsidy vouchers issued by the state under its Care4Kids program. You might wonder how it has come to pass that business owners are being unionized. You'd be right to wonder.
Here's another bizarre twist. Low-income FCCPs, who care for their own young children along with those of others, receive the Care4Kids vouchers for doing so. So, while they may qualify for these welfare subsidies, now they are receiving them under a union contract, which would seem to constitute the unionization of welfare recipients. Surely, we have entered the theater of the absurd - ushered in by our Impresario-in-Chief Dannel P. Malloy.
Conventional labor unions bargain with their members' employers. Not these peculiar new unions. This peculiarity has drawn the attention of the Supreme Court in a case - Harris v. Quinn - scheduled to be decided today, involving similar unionization of Medicaid-supported homecare workers in Illinois. Malloy will be watching closely. An adverse ruling could upend his union-organization scheme.
Connecticut's FCCP contract calls for state spending on these workers to increase by 25 percent by its fourth year, including grants to FCCPs to make home improvements. Since personal care aids are also paid in part with state funds (reimbursements under state health care plans), the PCA contract will also increase state spending. Both FCCP and PCA contracts provide job training grants and various other forms of assistance, including commitments to "study the health care coverage of members." Can taxpayer-funded health and pension benefits for these new SEIU members be far off?
Of course, state taxpayers will bear the cost of all these pay and benefit increases. But what if the state cannot afford the negotiated wage and benefit increases? In that case, the state will be forced to reduce the number beneficiaries. Fewer low-income parents will receive child care subsidies and fewer elderly and disabled citizens will receive at-home health care reimbursements.
The most peculiar thing about the whole adventure? If Malloy wanted to increase the pay of PCAs and FCCPs, he could simply have pushed for higher health care reimbursement rates for PCA services and larger Care4Kids subsidy vouchers for FCCPs - both easily accomplished with his fellow Democratic Party members in control of the legislature. If he wanted to assure "quality" health care and child care, as asserted in his executive orders, he and his legislative allies could have instituted strengthened licensing requirements and provided job training funds for both PCAs and FCCPs.
Following a conventional legislative-budgetary approach, no unions would have been needed and no union dues siphoned from programming for these services.
So why did Malloy choose to get SEIU involved?
A clue might be found in the SEIU contracts themselves. There's an interesting provision authorizing: "voluntary contributions to the Union's political action/solidarity fund." Smells like a union payback for Malloy in his 2014 re-election bid.
Malloy is indeed organized labor's Servant-in-Chief. Come November, voters will decide whether they want four more years of his servitude.
Red Jahncke (RTJahncke@ Gmail.com) is president of The Townsend Group, a management consulting firm in Connecticut.
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