Pauline has worked as a personal care attendant for more than 20 years through different non-profit agencies. Despite her experience, this past June she had to attend a state-mandated PCA orientation or risk losing her job.
The three-hour training session consists of using proper language when working with the disabled, offering the right type of support, instruction on filling out time-sheets and reporting abuse and neglect.
Part of the orientation is a 30-minute “union-only” session of the training, during which members SEIU 1199 organizers discuss workers' rights and the benefits of joining a union. The union then tries to get PCAs to sign union cards to join the SEIU 1199 and start paying dues.
Pauline refused to sign the card and that was when the trouble started.
“They started calling two, three times a day,” Pauline said. Individuals who would not give their names asked her why she didn’t sign the card. “They’re calling at 10 o’clock at night. That is not the way you approach people,” Pauline said.
What’s worse – and possibly dangerous – is that the phone calls are not going to Pauline’s personal phone but rather the home of her 89-year-old client, who recently suffered two strokes. “I said, ‘You’re waking up the client, stop!’ Then they hung up the phone again.”
Pauline said her client attempts to get out of bed and answer the phone by herself, which could be dangerous because she is unable to walk unassisted. Pauline also has no idea how the pro-union callers got the phone number of her client. “They’re scaring her,” Pauline said. “She tries to jump out of bed because she thinks there has been an accident or something like that.”
Pauline claims other PCAs have experienced similar situations but are afraid they will lose their jobs if they come forward. Some have threatened to call the police. “This is harassment,” she said.
"We've been seeing this across the country," said Patrick Semmons, vice-president with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. "They create these orientation programs and then push the workers to sign the union cards. Then they deduct dues and fees. It's a matter of getting to the money."
"It's an ugly situation," he said, "but unfortunately it's par for the course in these types of things."
There are over 20,000 personal care assistants working in the state of Connecticut, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Every PCA hired after Jan. 1, 2015, will have to attend to the orientation run by the Service Employees International Union 1199. The mandatory orientation is three hours long and includes the “union only” portion of the training the educates PCA’s on “worker’s rights and responsibilities.” The PCA’s are paid $37.50 for attendance.
Since that time 415 PCA’s have been paid $15,562.50 for their time, while $224,562.50 "has been paid to the vendor who is running the orientations," according to the Office of Policy and Management. OPM spokesman Chris McClure notes that part of the money is paid through Medicaid – federal funds meant to aid the poor.
The payments are made through the "1199 Training and Upgrading Fund," a $1 million account run by director Steve Bender, who selects the vendors that conduct the orientation.
Private PCA companies can opt out of the program and provide the orientation themselves but employees still have to attend the union-only part of the program.
The state-mandated orientation is part of a labor agreement between the PCA Workforce Council and the Service Employees International Union. The workforce council was created by Governor Dannel Malloy through Executive Order 10 after attempts to unionize PCAs through the state legislature were repeatedly defeated.
Executive Order 10 established the PCA Workforce Council and allowed a vote for PCA unionization in spite of the legislature. The vote was held in 2012, but only 23 percent of the 6,700 PCAs who received ballots voted. The measure passed 1,228 to 365 and CT Home Care United was formed as part of the SEIU 1199.
However, the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court's Harris v. Quinn ruling eviscerated the new union by declaring employees of private healthcare companies were not subject to collective bargaining contracts made between the SEIU 1199 and the state of Illinois. The court ruling set a precedent and the SEIU requested the state of Connecticut halt collection of agency fees.
The effect of the Supreme Court ruling was that PCAs can join the SEIU 1199 if they choose, but the union could not force PCAs to join or pay agency and representation fees. The union-only portion of the PCA Orientation allows representatives of the SEIU 1199 to attempt to recruit new members by having them sign union cards - at taxpayer expense.
Sheila Mulvey, who currently sits on the workforce council, testified against the bill in a public hearing. She labelled the idea “redundant of sound and successful practices.” At issue, is that PCA’s develop an individualized care plan with their client and union regulations would force limits on what services the PCA delivered or how he or she delivered them.
When the workforce council was created many believed his executive order was meant to show his support for the unions. As reported by Christine Stuart at CT News Junkie, “Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked labor leaders not to question his commitment to labor. Today he signed two executive orders that provide a path for state child care workers and personal care attendants to organize and gain collective bargaining rights.”
Low-wage healthcare jobs are among the fastest growing in the state. PCA’s in particular, were projected to grow by 5.3 percent according to the Department of Labor. Three of the five fastest growing jobs were in healthcare.
For her part, Pauline says she doesn’t want to join a union because she had been part of one before and the experience left a bad impression of big promises with no returns. “They didn’t stand up with us,” she said. “Most of them are just there to collect the money. They say they will back you up but then they just forget about you.”
“Let people make up their mind,” she said. “You don’t push things on people like that. Everyone has a right to make the right decision, you don’t push people to do things.”