Even those observers of California state government who are aware of the degree to which the Democratic-controlled legislature is in the tank for public-sector unions might be shocked by the latest bill that's making its way to the governor's office.
Legislators are about to require that private-sector workers in the home-care industry provide a wide range of personal information—home address, email contact, cell-phone number—to any labor organization that wants it. Those unions would then be free, at their discretion, to pester these workers into joining the union.
The bill only affects one industry, but the precedent is clear. How long before an ever-expanding list of private workers in California are subject to union organizers showing up at their doorstep and contacting them on their private emails and cell phones? The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has already been able to unionize home healthcare workers receiving government payments to care for a loved one. Clearly, SEIU is expanding its horizons.
In fact, the bill apparently is such a priority to the Democratic leadership that Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) recently stacked the Human Services Committee with three new Democratic members to assure its passage. It's a highly unusual move to expand the size of a committee to assure passage of particular legislation.
Assembly Bill 1513 ostensibly is designed to improve the licensure and regulation of home-care organizations—companies that provide aides to the homes of sick, disabled or elderly people to help them with laundry, cooking, showers and other basic needs.
The state already requires aides to pass background checks, receive necessary training and register with the California Department of Social Services to help combat abuse. The aides must already provide their personal information to the state government. Clients can search an existing database to double-check the backgrounds of those who provide such work in their homes.
This new Home Care Services Consumer Protection Act claims to improve home health services by allowing "home care aides the opportunity to benefit from information, resources and more," according to Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose). But the real purpose is to let the bill's sponsor, SEIU, gain personal information for organizing purposes.
There's no need to speculate about the goal here. The previous version of the bill required employees to provide their personal information to the state, which would then provide the information "to a governmental or non-profit entity that provides training, educational classes, and other specified services" upon that entity's request.
The newly amended bill requires "a copy of a registered home care aide's name, mailing address, cellular telephone number, and email address on file with the department to be made available, upon request, to a labor organization." The labor unions would be free to use the information for "employee organizing, representation and assistance activities." That provides wide latitude with few restrictions.
The bill includes an "opt out" mechanism, but that doesn't offer much protection. A home-care worker would need to go through the trouble of trying to keep personal information out of the union's grasp. And we've seen the problems with such a system in the current union dues-paying system.
A 1977 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows public employees to opt out of paying those portions of their dues that are used for direct political purposes. But employees who want to opt out often complain about the difficult and convoluted process of doing so. Obviously, unions—and the state government—have no reason to make such a process easy.
This bill is nothing more than a union-organizing ploy. Again, the state government already has all the requisite personal information of those who provide home-care services. The public can search that information using an employee number. We're talking about private employees of private companies working for private people. This is different from the Medicaid-funded In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) system.
Legislators also have recently passed two bills, as I detailed for the California Policy Center, that provide public-sector unions with unfettered on-the-job access to teachers and other government workers in order to provide seminars about union membership. That legislation is a pre-emptive effort in case the U.S. Supreme Court, as some expect, strikes down mandatory union membership. A.B. 1513 is even more noxious because it gives unions a right to contact employees of private companies outside of the job site.
The bill also undermines a compromise that was hammered out between unions, legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in 2013. That's when the legislature passed the previous version of the Home Care Services Consumer Protection Act to require the licensing and regulation of the private home-care industry. Unions had pushed for the inclusion of personal employee information back then, but concerns about privacy scuttled that idea.
Now they're back for the same thing again and are likely to get the bill through because of De Leon's committee-packing efforts. De Leon removed Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) and added Democratic Sens. Connie Leyva of Chino, Mike McGuire of Healdsburg and Anthony Portantino of La Cañada-Flintridge. Newman is facing a recall, so this takes him off of the hot seat on a controversial union vote in conservative-leaning Orange County.
Ironically, Democratic legislators often have tried to enhance the privacy of public employees with a variety of bills. Yet when it comes to private-sector employees, the Legislature is more than happy to let union organizers know exactly where they live—and even have access to their cell-phone numbers and email addresses.
"A.B. 1513 is clearly just a labor grab, and will do nothing more than boost unions' membership rolls and bottom line at the expense of home care aides and the frail elderly and disabled individuals they serve," said Trevor O'Neil, president of Colonial Home Care Services in Orange and co-chairman of the Home Care Association of America, California chapter. "Home care is an out-of-pocket expense, and any mandated increases to employee pay and benefits will result in higher prices for people who depend upon these services to remain in their homes."
That's for sure. But even worse—home-care workers could now be subject to unwanted visits from Nick the Union Organizer. And how long will it be before other unions follow this lead and coerce the legislature to hand over your personal information?
This column was first published by the California Policy Center.