As debate over privacy issues related to social media continue across the country, in Connecticut a series of union-backed bills would give union leaders continual access to the personal contact information for state employees, home health aides and child care workers.
That information includes names, addresses, personal phone numbers, personal email addresses, gender and dates of employment as public-sector unions seek to retain and grow membership in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME and organize workers in private industries that have, thus far, eluded them.
A bill which may come up for debate in the House of Representatives this week would require the state to provide unions with personal contact information for new state employees and updated employee information every 120 days. It would also give union representatives access to new employee orientations.
HB 6935 would allow union leaders to use public facilities, phones and email systems to communicate with those workers, while restricting the state from providing employee contact information to any organization that may inform employees about their Janus rights.
The bill makes dues authorizations outlined on union membership cards a matter of state law. Under this provision a union member could resign from the union but still be forced to pay dues until a thirty-day window of time, something unions are already trying to enforce.
Another bill — SB 1051 — would require the state to create a database of all home health aides – totaling 35,000 workers. Those workers’ personal contact information would be available through a Freedom of Information request.
Home care agencies noted the requirements of the bill violate worker privacy and would likely be used for union organization efforts.
In an interview with WTIC 1080, Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco said the bill was simply an attempt to organize home health care workers.
Lastly, a union contract passed out the Appropriations Committee includes an existent provision that provides the union with personal contact information for over 7,000 child care workers, including unlicensed family members who receive a state subsidy for caring for nieces, nephews and grandchildren while their parents are at work.
Child care workers are not forced to be in the union but can voluntarily choose to join. Those workers and family members must also attend a union orientation per the existing contract.
Although these child care workers are not considered state employees, they are paid through the state’s Office of Early Childhood and the Care4Kids program and union dues are deducted automatically from those payments.
The push for more access and more members is nothing altogether new but has seen increased vigor since Janus v. AFSCME which ceased collection of “agency fees” from workers who did not wish to be part of a union.
The loss of agency fees left unions facing a loss of millions in payments, but they have pushed back with bill proposals aimed at ensuring access to new state employees and expanding membership.
Certain labor unions like SEIU – the union that would likely seek to unionize home health care workers and is the affiliate organization representing child care workers – also have to contend with a new regulatory reform by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services that no longer allows automatic dues deductions from Medicaid payments.
Instead, workers would have to pay dues by check or authorize automatic deductions from their bank accounts but that could lead to collection issues for unions.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, who rode to election victory with ample support from the CT AFL-CIO and SEIU, has joined other states in a lawsuit against the Donald Trump administration to fight the new regulation.
Tong has also offered his support for a “captive audience” bill which would forbid private businesses from holding mandatory meetings regarding unionization efforts.
The long sought-after pro-union legislation is opposed by both the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and the Connecticut Hospital Association who argue the bill is preempted by federal law under the National Labor Relations Act.
But Democrat majorities in the House and Senate are pushing the bills to the forefront in the waning days of the 2019 legislative session.
Although he was backed by state labor unions, Gov. Ned Lamont has not yet indicated whether he would sign these bills into law.
The governor signed off on increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour but indicated he might veto a paid family and medical leave bill as it’s currently written – two policies that public sector unions have lobbied for heavily over the past four years.
Only 16 percent of Connecticut’s total workforce is unionized, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the public sector remains big labor’s stronghold in the state with 94 percent of the state’s full-time workforce part of a collective bargaining unit.
That number is growing as unions such as the American Federation of Teachers, AFSCME and SEIU are picking up additional groups of workers.
In 2016, assistant attorneys general joined the Connecticut AFT, and AFT added small groups of tax attorneys and various administrative managers through arbitrated agreements.
Connecticut is not the only state attempting a legislative “Janus fix.”
Massachusetts is attempting to allow unions to collect fees from nonmembers who benefit from legal aid in arbitrated agreements.
Despite the push for more members and access to workers’ personal information, union leaders insist that Janus has been a boon for union membership.
CT AFT President Jan Hochadel called the decision a “blessing in disguise.”
Connecticut public sector unions have seen increased membership since the Janus decision through new state hiring, adding new employees to bargaining units and an administrative shift in which members were accidentally classified as non-members prior to the Janus decision.
The higher membership rates were not enough to, thus far, offset the loss of agency fees, leaving union leadership looking for ways to shore up their funds.