Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Trey Kovacs, a labor policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.
Imagine if your elderly relative was seeking in-home care and was denied the right to negotiate the terms of care with the caregiver.
Well, the state of Vermont believes it and its union partners know best when it comes to providing care for the elderly and disabled. Senate Bill 59, which already passed the Vermont Senate, puts elected officials and union bosses in charge of setting standards for in-home care. If enacted the bill would force the more than 6,000 home-care workers — comprised of small business owners, independent contractors and family members — to pays dues to a union whether they like it or not.
The union would seize the political voice of these small business owners by controlling work conditions and salary and by taking away their seat at the table to influence regulation and subsidies.
In addition, the unions attempting to organize Vermont’s home-care workers, including 1199 SEIU Health Care Workers East and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, would add a layer of bureaucracy between the actual caregivers and the state. The union would seize the political voice of these small business owners by controlling work conditions and salary and by taking away their seat at the table to influence regulation and subsidies.
And the unions that organize these types of low-wage caregivers cannot be trusted to bargain for home-care workers’ best interest. The unions have a history of being self-serving and exploitive of members. Adverse results have been the outcome in almost every state allowing home-care workers to unionize.
For example, SEIU union boss Tyrone Freeman, president of a Los Angeles-area local representing 190,000 home-care workers, recently was found guilty of 14 counts of embezzlement. According to the Los Angeles Times, the low-wage caregivers also sued Freeman – who made $200,000 per year – demanding restitution of more than $1.1 million in dues money he reportedly on high-end liquor, parties and expenses from his Hawaii wedding in 2006.
Forced unionization of home-care workers in the Midwest has produced sadly similar results. In 2006, SEIU, taking advantage of Michigan law that deemed home-care providers government employees, organized a stealth campaign to unionize those workers. Its tactics produced a voter turnout of just 20 percent, and SEIU won a landslide victory. Then, from 2006 to 2013, the SEIU took in more than $34 million in union dues from those members – and provided zero in the way of tangible benefits.
Then there’s Lisa Thompson, who until recently was vice president of an AFSCME local in Minnesota. She was working to organize licensed child-care providers similar to the effort to organize home care workers in Vermont. But according to a story by watchdog.org, which featured an interview with Thompson, she “has resigned, demanded her card check back and submitted testimony for a Monday legislative hearing” accusing union organizers of using “unethical tactics” to obtain votes.
But there is more to this than unethical tactics by union organizers. It also would put a financial strain on those who receive home care and taxpayers as well.
First, the elderly, who often pay for home care with state subsidies, would have to pay their home-care workers more. Today, Vermont spends $40 million per year on home health care, which means even a 1 percent increase would cost another $400,000 annually. That would only deepen the state’s current $176 million budget gap. Home-care workers would not necessarily receive a raise if they unionized, but it is hard to imagine a union, if established, would not push for higher salaries earlier rather than later.
A fair question has emerged: Where do this end? How is the home-care worker legislation different from the child-care legislation that died earlier? And how, as state Sen. Kevin Mullin, a Republican, has pointed out, does either measure differ from landlords who provide housing for families that receive state rent subsidies? If child-care workers or home-care workers can unionize, why not them?
Unfortunately, this is a frighteningly good question.