Despite a stinging rebuke from Gov. Jerry Brown last year, California’s union-allied lawmakers are back with a plan to force private employees working for privately funded organizations to provide their cellphone numbers and home addresses to any union organizer that demands them. The bill’s backers want to intimidate people into paying union dues, even though this legislation is a clear affront to the privacy rights all Californians are supposed to enjoy.
The new legislation, Assembly Bill 2455 by Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, applies only to new home-care workers, but sets a precedent that could apply to every type of private employee. Currently, under the Home Care Services Consumer Protection Act, the state maintains a registry of home-care aides and applicants so that it can assure that such workers have passed a background check, and are properly trained and licensed to work in people’s homes.
An employer may therefore contact the Department of Social Services or go online to make sure that an aide meets the state’s standards, but the current law specifically states that the aide’s personal information “shall not be publicly available on the home care registry.” It’s a reasonable way to provide information without opening up workers to harassment. AB 2455, however, requires the department to “provide a labor organization an electronic copy of a registered home care aide’s name, telephone number, and cellular telephone number, as specified.” But that’s unreasonable.
Last year, the Legislature approve the nearly identical Assembly Bill 1513. It was such a top union priority that Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, stacked the Human Services Committee with three new Democratic members to assure its passage. The measure was controversial because the above-mentioned home-care consumer law was approved only after it was stripped of similar privacy-violating provisions. So AB 1513 undermined a carefully drafted compromise.
Fortunately, Brown vetoed the bill with a pointed message. “Home care aides have placed their names and personal contact information on the Registry for the purpose of allowing consumers and their families to determine whether an aide has undergone a criminal background check and received training,” the governor wrote. “I am concerned about now releasing the personal information of these home care aides, who joined the registry without knowing that their information would be disclosed as prescribed by this bill.”
Now it’s back again. The goal isn’t to advance the general access public records, but to allow one specific type of politically favored organization to have a leg up in their organizing efforts. It’s partly a response to concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court’s case known as Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The court, which begins deliberations on the case next week, is expected to toss aside the mandatory payment of union dues.
This California legislation doesn’t deal directly with public-sector unionization, which is the fundamental issue in the Janus case, but it is one of myriad efforts by California legislators to help unions expand their membership rolls. Last year, for instance, the governor signed a new law that allows unions to have unfettered on-the-job access to teachers and state workers to provide seminars about the advantages of joining their respective unions.
The state Constitution guarantees a right to privacy. State law also provides specific guarantees to state workers by forbidding the release of their confidential information, except in narrow circumstances. It’s outrageous to have a lesser standard for private citizens who aren’t involved in state business and to undermine a constitutional right simply to help the short-term goals of an interest group.
Home-care companies hire workers who come to the homes of sick, disabled or elderly people to help them with various chores such as laundry, cooking, showers and other basic needs. We’re not talking about people who are part of In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) system, which is funded through government Medicaid dollars. These are, again, private workers who work for private companies paid from families’ out-of-pocket expenses.
“There is no state compelling interest that justifies the routine public disclosure of confidential information of employees of a private business entity, absent a law enforcement investigation or court order,” explained Phil Bongiorno, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Home Care Association of America, in a recent letter to Assemblyman Kalra.
Bongiorno points to other ill effects of the proposal. It will make it tougher for home-care organizations to recruit and retain home-care aides, many of whom “would be understandably reluctant to allow their home addresses and telephone numbers to be disclosed.” The bill once again undermines the spirit of the home-care consumer protection law, which allowed the creation of the state registry with the understanding that private information would remain confidential.
Like last year’s vetoed legislation, the new bill allows an opt-out provision for home-care workers who don’t want their information shared with union organizers. But why should workers be forced to go through a possibly convoluted and bureaucratic process to protect their private information? If they don’t affirmatively contact the department, then their information will automatically be provided to any labor organization that requests it.
The bill’s cynicism is too much to take. “This bill allows home care aides the opportunity to benefit from training, information, resources and more,” Kalra said, as quoted in the Assembly floor analysis of last year’s bill. “These services can help home care aides advance in their careers and to increase the level of care they provide. This is an invaluable opportunity as the state’s aging population continues to grow.”
Yet home-care workers already are trained and licensed. The bill doesn’t help them in any way, but it does assure that union organizers can show up at their doorstep or call them on their cellphone to convince them to join a union. Unions are free to tout the benefits of membership, but the state shouldn’t be undermining individuals’ privacy rights to help them do so. If this becomes law, how long before every other private worker faces the same intrusion?
Steven Greenhut is contributing editor for the California Policy Center. He is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.