Analysis Law and Policy

Vermont Collective Bargaining Law a Departure From National Trends

Sheila Bapat

Home care workers in Vermont may soon have collective bargaining rights, as a result of union advocacy and organizing. "We’ve gone to thousands of doors. There's no shop floor here."

Over the past few years, a number of states have rolled back secure, reliable public sector jobs. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has successfully limited the collective bargaining rights of public employees, particularly teachers, nurses, child care providers, and other female-dominated professions. Other states proposed similar legislation. Tennessee had legislation to restrict teacher collective bargaining. In Ohio, a similar law was repealed in 2011. And in Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder stripped collective bargaining rights of home-based child care workers in 2011.

Despite this national climate, home care workers who are paid with state funds and aid underserved populations have over the last two decades secured collective bargaining rights in several states. California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Missouri have all codified collective bargaining rights for their publicly paid home care workers. And Vermont may be the next to join this group. The state’s collective bargaining legislation passed the Vermont House of Representatives on May 2 and already passed the Vermont Senate in March. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-VT) is expected to sign the legislation soon.

Many of these workers are paid less than $10 per hour as independent contractors, and their hours and wages are determined by the state. The vast majority—more than 90 percent—of all home care workers are women. One-third are African American, one-fifth are Hispanic, and one-fifth are immigrants. Twenty-five percent of home care workers are unmarried women with young children. An estimated 600,000 earn wages below the poverty line, according to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Two labor unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the SEIU, have been working to organize home care workers—not an easy task, given how isolated home care workers tend to be. As Karen Connor, communications director at AFSCME Vermont, told Rewire, “We make efforts to get workers together including through our website and we have local organizing meetings that help workers connect. But mostly, it’s door to door outreach. We’ve gone to thousands of doors. There’s no shop floor here. And home care workers don’t necessarily have a cell phone or email.”

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Janelle Blake has been a home care worker for ten years. She supports the Vermont collective bargaining legislation. “I don’t even know my colleagues. We are all spread out in state of Vermont. And that’s why it’s so great to form a union. When we come together we can get more done.”

As part of Vermont’s Medicaid-funded home care program, Blake earns $9.78 per hour. She works a total of 68 hours per week—full time for a single, disabled woman, and part-time for a disabled young boy. Blake started her career as a home care provider for a man with Alzheimer’s disease, and she then worked as a special education teacher. Along with her husband, a convenience store manager, Blake has raised three adult children all the while working in the care sector.

“I almost came to the point of losing our condo because things were getting so expensive,” she said. “It got really scary, that’s why I’m working so hard. We’ve worked very hard for everything we have, we started on food stamps and came up from there.”

Collective bargaining statutes like Vermont’s establish an employment relationship between these home care workers and the state for the limited purpose of collective bargaining. They empower workers to come together and decide what they’d like the terms of their employment to be and then negotiate those terms with the state.

However, these collective bargaining statutes still do not mirror the rights established by the National Labor Relations Act; for example, they do not protect home care workers who may choose to strike. “All the state home care worker collective bargaining laws prohibit striking,” Matt Mayers, AFSCME’s Vermont legislative director, told Rewire. “But this is to protect the ability of service recipients to obtain their vital services.”

Legislation like this has been shown to improve economic conditions of home care workers while also establishing continuity of care for elders, ill and disabled people, and others who are served by these home care workers. In California, for example, economist Candace Howes evaluated the economic impact of increasing these workers’ wages in San Francisco County, finding that increasing wages for home care workers reduced San Francisco’s overall poverty rate by 16 percent. She also found that in-home support services jobs represented 8 percent of all low-wage jobs, 16 percent of low-wage jobs available to women, and a quarter of all low-wage jobs available to immigrant women without English language proficiency in San Francisco County. As wages increased, the retention rate of all home care workers in San Francisco rose by 9 percent, and the retention rate for new home care workers rose by 89 percent.

The legislation may help save the state money over the long term, as recipients of care in Vermont can elect to live at home and receive home care support instead of the more costly option of living in a full-time care facility.

While public-sector jobs may continue to be attacked politically, Vermont’s statute shows that union prowess can improve conditions for workers who aid the underserved and are struggling financially themselves.

News Politics

Coalition Warns of Trump-Pence Ticket’s ‘Hateful’ Record

Ally Boguhn

“Let’s be clear, the Trump-Pence ticket is the gravest threat the LGBTQ community has ever faced in a presidential election,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

A coalition of leaders from reproductive rights, LGBTQ, labor, and Latino organizations joined together Friday to speak on the political and legislative records of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and his newly announced running mate, Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN).

“Today Donald Trump doubled down on his hateful anti-LGBTQ agenda by choosing [as] a running mate … a man who has made attacking the rights and dignity of LGBT people a cornerstone of his political career,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, during a press call hosted by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Speaking after news broke that Pence would join Trump’s ticket, Griffin outlined the many ways Pence had previously threatened the well-being of LGBTQ Americans, including voting against nondiscrimination efforts, signing a so-called religious freedom bill in the state, and opposing marriage equality

“Let’s be clear, the Trump-Pence ticket is the gravest threat the LGBTQ community has ever faced in a presidential election,” said Griffin.  

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that Pence’s selection was “proof positive” that the presumptive Republican nominee was moving to surround himself with “extreme ideologues,” adding that Pence had a track record of enforcing much of the anti-choice rhetoric Trump has wielded during his run for president. 

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“Donald Trump has promised to defund Planned Parenthood. Mike Pence actually led multiple efforts to shut down the government just so he could defund Planned Parenthood,” said Hogue. “As governor, he slashed funding for reproductive health-care clinics like Planned Parenthood to such a degree that it resulted in a public health crisis, with an uptick in HIV infections in rural areas of Indiana.”

“Donald Trump said … that he would punish women who had abortions. Under Mike Pence’s watch as governor, Purvi Patel … has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for attempting a home abortion,” continued Hogue.

“We now have two men in the race who don’t seem to get that women are half the workforce, and breadwinners in their families” said Liz Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of workers’ rights organization the AFL-CIO, in response to Pence’s selection. Shuler explained that Pence had voted against equal pay efforts such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act while in the U.S. House.

Pence also repealed Indiana’s construction wage law, which set a minimum wage for workers on public construction projects, “taking money directly out of the pockets of construction workers,” said Shuler. She compared Pence’s stance on labor issues to similar positions taken by Trump, who has previously claimed wages are “too high” and supports right-to-work laws, which as Rewire has previously reported, “have had negative effects on wages, income, and access to health care for people who work in states that have seen legislators attack collective bargaining.”

Martín Garcia, director of campaigns for the Latino Victory Project, worried about a Trump-Pence ticket’s impact on “Latinos across the country.” Garcia warned that Trump’s plan to deport 11 million people would “tear families and communities apart” and that his proposed border wall could “cost taxpayers millions of dollars.” He added that such policies would be in line with Pence’s rhetoric and policymaking.

During his time in Congress, Pence co-sponsored a measure which would have changed the rules on birthright citizenship, limiting it “to children born to at least one parent who is a citizen, immigrants living permanently in the U.S., or non-citizens performing active service in the U.S. Armed Forces,” according to ABC’s Indianapolis affiliate RTV6.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Ben Carson Can’t Stop Comparing Abortion to Slavery

Ally Boguhn

Amid the week's chaos, you may have missed Ben Carson comparing abortion to slavery, John Kasich attributing the gender pay gap to paid family leave, and Martin O’Malley releasing his “Worker’s Bill of Rights.”

Candidates vying for their shot at the White House in 2016 stepped into the spotlight this week for a series of interviews, debates, and forums in the hopes of highlighting why they are best suited for the presidency.

Amid all the chaos, you may have overlooked Ben Carson comparing abortion to slavery, John Kasich attributing the gender pay gap to paid family leave, and Martin O’Malley releasing his “Worker’s Bill of Rights.” Here are the stories on the campaign trail you might’ve missed this week:

Ben Carson Promises to Confront Supreme Court on Abortion, Like Lincoln Did ‘With Dred Scott

Ben Carson fell back on comparing abortion to slavery again, this time claiming that Roe v. Wade should be confronted by the next president in the same way President Abraham Lincoln took on slavery in Dred Scott v. Sandford.

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Speaking on Catholic television network EWTN as part of its “Candidate Conversation” series, Carson said he would be willing to sign anti-choice “personhood” legislation if elected president in order to confront the Supreme Court on the topic.

“Yeah, I would definitely be willing to engage in that kind of confrontation, you know very much the same way that Abraham Lincoln was willing to engage in confrontation with the Dred Scott case,” Carson claimed, according to Right Wing Watch.

“[Lincoln] felt that slavery was immoral, it was the wrong path to take. And the Supreme Court was defending slavery as they defended several things that were incorrect. We have a history that shows that they are not infallible, and therefore we shouldn’t simply submit to something we know to be wrong,” Carson said.

“There is not only the right to intervene, there is the duty to intervene,” Carson concluded.

Conservatives have long used the Supreme Court’s notorious decision in Dred Scott, which upheld slavery by ruling that Black Americans were not U.S. citizens, as proof that the Court sometimes gets things wrong.

But Carson’s comparison ignores that Roe expanded—not drastically limited—the rights of millions of people in the United States.

Carson has repeatedly jumped to compare abortion to slavery throughout the course of his campaign, most notably telling NBC’s Chuck Todd that those who have abortions are like slave owners who “thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave.”

Martin O’Malley Unveils “Worker’s Bill of Rights”

Former Maryland Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley rolled out his “Worker’s Bill of Rights” on Thursday, outlining 11 key areas for workplace reform.

O’Malley’s long list of worker’s rights included promises to help workers “balance work and family life” by supporting the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would mandate 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a new child or sick family member. The plan set a goal of guaranteeing that no family “has to pay more than 10 percent of their income on safe, affordable childcare in a given year,” which would be accomplished through the expansion of federal child care tax credits.

Elsewhere in the “Bill of Rights,” O’Malley vowed to provide workers with more predictable schedules, promising to “lobby for, pass, and implement the Schedules That Work Act,” a bill introduced last July by House Democrats that would have regulated unstable work schedules, including placing workers “on call.”

The legislation would have helped address how unreliable scheduling practices “disproportionately affect low-wage workers and workers in retail, food service, and cleaning occupations, and make it hard for these workers and their families to maintain stable child care, care for other family members, pursue career development or other education, get or keep a second job, or take care of their own health,” according to a press release on the bill.

O’Malley’s platform also called for the implementation of a “living wage” by raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, protecting collective bargaining, and enacting the Paycheck Fairness Act to end pay discrimination.

Although Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) have both publicly supported many of the same ideas, a spokesperson for O’Malley’s campaign told the Huffington Post that the candidate was the first one to offer a comprehensive package to address them.

“No other candidate has laid out in such detail the specific actions they would take to strengthen workers’ rights and increase wages — beyond vague, big-picture ideas or Republican-lite proposals,” Sean Savett told the publication.

Kasich: Paid Family Leave Hurts Equal Pay Efforts

Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich came out against federal paid family leave legislation last Friday, claiming that such mandates hurt equal pay efforts.

Speaking at a town hall event in Hampton, New Hampshire, Kasich advocated against paid family leave, arguing that it should be “up to employers to try to be creative about” these policies and that women instead need better telecommuting policies and more support to stay at home.

“The one thing we need to do for working women is to give them the flexibility to be able to work at home online,” Kasich said, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

“And we need to accommodate women who want to be at home, having a healthy baby and in fact being involved, however many years they want to take care of the family,” he continued.

The governor went on to blame paid parental leave policies for inhibiting equal pay, claiming, “When women take maternity leave or time to be with the children, then what happens is they fall behind on the experience level, which means that the pay becomes a differential.”

During a different town hall event later in the day, Kasich said he was unsure about whether he supports a mandate on paid sick leave.

Kasich is far from the only member of the Republican primary field to voice opposition to paid leave policies—Carly FiorinaTed Cruz, and Jeb Bush have also spoken out against federally mandated parental leave.

Just one Republican primary candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), has come out with a paid family leave plan. Instead of a federal mandate, Rubio has proposed a tax break for companies who offer the benefit, a move criticized for doing little to broaden access to leave.

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