Battle over Home Care Unions Heats Up with Lawsuit

As part of an ongoing nationwide battle over home care worker organizing efforts, a coalition of care providers, consumers and workers has sued Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. The suit challenges his executive order, which they say establishes a process to unionize workers hired directly by consumers.

Among those disputing Wolf’s Executive Order 2015-05 are The Pennsylvania Homecare Association (PHA), United Cerebral Palsy of Pennsylvania (UCP), two consumers of home- and community-based services and a direct care worker.

On Monday, the group sued the Wolf administration in Commonwealth Court, on the grounds that the executive order violates the Pennsylvania Constitution and state law. Previously, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell issued a similar executive order in 2010, which was later found to be in violation of state law.

“This lawsuit raises substantial legal questions that were squarely before the Commonwealth Court in 2010 when Senior Judge Quigley granted injunctive relief concerning the Rendell Executive Order which Governor Wolf’s Executive Order mirrors in all material respects,” said James J. Kutz, counsel for the petitioners. “For all the same reasons that injunctive relief was appropriate in 2010, the Petitioners’ right to relief for a permanent injunction prohibiting any action by Governor Wolf … is equally clear and should be granted.”

The executive order, according to the coalition, “establishes a process to unionize attendants who are hired directly by consumers to provide care in their homes.”

In Pennsylvania, these independent, directly hired aides account for perhaps 12,000 workers, many of whom are relatives of the patients, according to a recent article by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Time and again, it’s a daughter taking care of mom,” and often they live in the same house, Kutz told the Post-Gazette. “Lists of these direct-care workers are being provided to unions as we talk,” and union representatives are soliciting the workers at their homes, he said.

Because independently hired aides are receiving payments through Medicaid or Medicare funds, unions see an opportunity to organize, the Post-Gazette writes. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — which represents thousands of home care workers, including those who voted to create a union in Minnesota’s historic election last year — and AFSCME are seeking to gain a larger presence in this industry.

Additionally, the state has a “keen interest in the industry,” as workers are reimbursed through the Department of Human Services, the article notes.

Still, Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive order is aimed at improving access for patients, and improving working conditions for their employees, spokesman Jeff Sheridan tells the Post-Gazette.

“Gov. Wolf’s executive order ensures that home care workers have a voice in shaping the future of the industry, and seniors have choices about where to receive care,” Sheridan said. “The executive order does not grant collective bargaining rights to workers, does not force them to join a union, and does not make them state employees.”

To read the full story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, click here.

Written by Emily Study