Break Time 

Taking on L.A.’s health-care workers’ union

Wednesday, Mar 27 2002

As reported in the L.A. Daily Journal by Gina Keating last week, in a recent preliminary hearing, the foundation’s lawyers raised the issue of who is a county employee: They contended that classifying home health-care workers as county employees is illegal, since the county doesn‘t hire, fire or supervise the workers and carries no legal responsibility for their performance. (The county does process their time sheets.) The foundation lawyers are expected to ask next month that the court stop Local 434b from collecting any dues until the case is resolved.

Some county officials fear that the case’s resolution could somehow result in the workers being put on the county payroll at the cost of millions per year while the county already faces a 3-year, $360-million health services deficit. The board has consistently opposed a 2-year-old state guideline a that would raise the pay of health-care workers, most of whom are part-timers, from the current $6.75 an hour to more than $11 an hour. SEIU 434b is now collecting signatures for a referendum that would force the county to pay the higher salary. The county, which contends this referendum is unconstitutional, apparently nearly scuttled it in a closed-session board meeting last December before letting the petitions circulate, it was recently disclosed. In any case, if the union is enjoined from collecting dues, it will, many anticipate, have a very hard time collecting signatures for its initiative.

The care workers are not in a strict sense public employees, but the county set up what its attorneys called ”an employer of record“ -- a public authority to bargain with the workers collectively. The alternatives are for the workers to bargain with their individual employers for their wages, which health-care organizers said would lead to chaos, or for the health-care givers to be hired on as official county workers.

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Tyrone Freeman, president of the SEIU‘s 434b Long-Term Care Union, called the lawsuit ”an attempt to turn back the clock on L.A.’s frailest residents. Setting up a public authority was a way to cure the chaos and put standards in place for quality. Now there‘s a worker registry, background screening, training, referrals and health insurance for aides.“

The health-care suit isn’t the only recent court action in Los Angeles by the conservative foundation, which generally espouses the 19th-century anti-union philosophy whereby workers and employers are presumed better to contract as equals. Pasadena attorney Glenn Rothner recently won a federal appeal case against the foundation on behalf of the California Faculty Association in a similar matter. The outcome of this case (which the plaintiffs now may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court) determined that the CFA bargaining unit, which represents Cal State system teachers, could collect dues-equivalent ”fair-share“ fees from instructors and professors who refused to join the union.

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