The state House of Representatives voted Friday night in favor of plans to allow two groups of low-income workers to join unions.
The clash was among the longest debates of the year in the House, where members went into the night on Friday in a sharp clash between Democrats against Republicans.
The legislature has battled over the unionization of day-care providers and personal-care attendants in the past, but Democrats have never been able to turn the bill into law. The difference this time is that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed two executive orders in September 2011 that helped pave the way for the unionization of the workers.
On Friday night, lawmakers debated over a 16-page, 449-line bill that they said would essentially codify the two executive orders into law.
The child-care providers already voted to join the union in December by a vote of 1,603 to 88. The personal-care attendants also voted by 1,228 to 365 to join a union.
“This bill benefits both workers and consumers,” said state Rep. Zeke Zalaski, a pro-labor factory worker in Bristol who co-chairs the legislature’s labor committee. “Collective bargaining will help stabilize these industries. This could make these jobs a career.”
House Republican leader Larry Cafero said he thought that the debate could have started at 12 noon and lasted for six hours. Instead, after caucuses, the debate did not start until 4:57 p.m.
“Glad we’re starting early today,” Zalaski told his colleagues sarcastically as the debate finally began. “It should be a great day.”
State Rep. Gail Hamm, a Democrat, said she has learned in her career that the workers have relatively limited options to seek a solution.
“You’ve got three choices: lobbyist, litigation or labor,” Hamm said on the House floor.
For months, Republicans have blasted Malloy on the issue. Pushing the matter to a head, two Republican state legislators filed a lawsuit in March against Malloy, challenging his executive order. Sen. Joseph Markley of Southington and Rep. Rob Sampson of Wolcott filed the lawsuit with the conservative Yankee Institute of Public Policy to prevent the controversial unionization.
The lawsuit says that the legislature – not the governor – should have the right to decide the issue. The suit charges that the executive orders violate labor laws at the state and federal level, as well as the state and federal Constitutions. Malloy’s signing of the executive order “is an unconstitutional usurpation of the legislature’s constitutional right to create law and as such is a violation of the separation of powers of the Connecticut Constitution,” the lawsuit states.
In speaking with reporters, Malloy has repeatedly defended his actions.
“We’re not requiring anyone to be unionized,” Malloy told reporters last month. “We’re requiring that they have the right to unionize if that’s what they choose.”
After more than 90 minutes of debate, state Rep. Arthur O’Neill made a motion to refer the bill to the legislature’s judiciary committee. That motion immediately stopped the debate as lawyers tried to determine the parliamentary procedure. On a voice vote, O’Neill’s motion was defeated at 6:45 p.m. Friday.
The Courant’s Daniela Altimari reports:
Zalaski said the bill will provide stability and encourage more people to work in those fields.
“In many cases, personal care attendants are underpaid, work limited hours and have no access to healthcare benefits,” Zalaski said when he brought out the bill just before 5 p.m. “Giving them the ability to collectively bargain allows peace of mind to the consumer and their families.”
The bill covers child care workers who are paid through the state’s Care 4 Kids program and personal care assistants, who provide help to seniors and people with disabilities and are paid by the state.
Given that the state is funding those wages, Cafero asked why the state couldn’t simply raise those wages.
“If we believe we have a problem in the state of Connecticut that the child care providers and the personal care assistants of this state are underpaid, and we’re the ones that pay them, let’s give them a raise!” he bellowed. “What do we got to do this for?”
Opponents of the measure say allowing child care workers to unionize could drive up costs. Critics of the provision allowing personal care assistants to unionize say it could create more paperwork and add a level of mistrust to the intimate relationship between the aide and the person receiving the care.