Gov. Kasich rescinds union rights for Ohio care workers

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Republican Gov. John Kasich on Friday rescinded a pair of directives issued by his predecessor that allowed independent home health care and child care workers under contract with the state to unionize, arguing the key union benefit of health insurance coverage is now widely available elsewhere.

An executive order signed by Kasich walks back a pair of orders signed by then-Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat – one in 2007 for home health care workers, another in 2008 for child care workers – allowing collective bargaining.

Separate unions representing roughly 10,000 care workers combined pushed back against the move, saying representation afforded the workers some basic rights in the state regulatory process and a sense of dignity.

Joe Weidner, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union representing child care workers, said Kasich was being “disingenuous” when he mentioned health care benefits because they were never part of the equation.

The governor has had a mixed relationship with unions. He signed an unpopular 2011 law severely restricting the collective bargaining rights of public-employee unions that was overwhelming overturned by voters in a labor-backed ballot campaign.

Kasich conceded defeat and has since taken a conciliatory stance toward labor. A contract expected to be finalized soon gives about 30,000 unionized state employees their first raises since 2008. Those will cost about $295 million over three years.

However, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Friday that the argument that independent, self-employed contractors and business owners who do business with the state should be required to join a public employee union “has always been on shaky ground.”

“The governor has never supported these arrangements, but allowed them to continue on the grounds that contractors might be able to get health care from their unions if they needed it,” Nichols said. “With health care insurance more widely available, that reason is removed – one of the unions even dropped their health care coverage – so it didn’t make sense to continue.”

SEIU 1199 President Becky Williams said she was appalled Kasich would act unilaterally to strip bargaining rights for the low-income, minority and female workers who dominate the home health field.

“This is a volatile and uncertain time for Ohio’s home care providers and consumers already, because of radical moves by Governor Kasich to effectively eliminate all independent home care providers and slash the pay of those that remain,” Williams said in a statement. “Now, it is clear that Kasich wants to dismantle the ability of home care workers to organize a union in hopes of silencing their ability to fight for improved funding and increased quality of service to Ohio’s seniors and people with disabilities.”

Joyce Brewer, a veteran child care worker in Marion County, was among union-eligible workers who opted out after it became an option. She has health coverage through her husband’s employer.

“I won’t say I’m anti-union. My husband works in a union shop. My dad was big in the union,” she said. “But being self-employed, I’m not sure what the union feels they can do for us.”

Before leaving office, Strickland had extended the AFSCME contract for 4 1/2 years, expiring June 30 of this year. Independent home health care workers won a new contract in July 2012 that expires that same day.

Strickland, who’s running for U.S. Senate, criticized the decision.

“These are the people who care for our children, our parents and grandparents, and disabled members of our communities – denying them a voice is not only wrong, it’s dangerous to the people who depend on their care,” he said.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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