Feds Sued for Change to Health Worker Union Dues Rules

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the Trump administration Monday over a federal rule that blocks more than half a million in-home health care workers in the Golden State from directly deducting union dues from their paychecks.

Nearly 600,000 seniors and people living with disabilities in California receive support from home care workers through a Medicaid program called In-Home Supportive Services, which operates under the state’s collective bargaining laws due to action by the Legislature in the 1990s.

The state’s more than 500,000 in-home care workers help patients bathe, prepare meals, dress themselves, drive to doctor appointments and take any necessary medications.

More than half of those workers belong to a union – primarily Service Employees International Union or American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – and union membership fees are deducted from their paychecks. The fees pay for first aid training and some health supplies.

On May 6, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services said that, after reinterpreting the federal Medicaid Act, it would issue a final rule barring states from withholding union fees from workers’ paychecks.

The agency, which first proposed the rule in July 2018, relies on its reading of a provision of the Medicaid Act that prohibits third parties from collecting payment for Medicaid services. Congress passed the provision 47 years ago to prevent fraudulent medical financing schemes.

But according to the complaint filed Monday in the Northern District of California, Health and Human Services “unlawfully attempted to reinterpret the Medicaid Act in service of anti-union objectives that bear no relationship to the purpose of that act.”

Becerra, the Golden State’s top lawyer and first elected Latino attorney general, told reporters at a press conference Monday that the rule hurts workers’ rights and puts the health of individuals they serve at risk.

“With this rule, the Trump administration is not only harming Medicaid skilled home care workers who have joined unions, but the millions of seniors and people with disabilities who depend on these indispensable workers,” Becerra said. “This is a back-door way of making hard for workers to organize in their union.”

April Verrett, president of SEIU Local 2015, which represents home care workers, told reporters the rule was “hateful” and represented a thinly veiled attack on female union members.

“Let’s call it what it is: a shameful political attack on union workers who are largely women and people of color,” Verrett said. “This is an attempt to silence their voices and steal their power. Rather than applauding home care workers, this administration has chosen to take steps to silence us.”

While states could avoid a disruption to their labor agreements by foregoing federal Medicaid funding, doing so would cost California roughly $6.5 billion in funding, Becerra’s office said in a statement Monday.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington state – which together represent an additional 300,000 in-home care workers – also joined the multistate complaint Monday. The states want a judge to find the new rule arbitrary, capricious and unconstitutional and to bar its implementation.

A spokesperson for U.S Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the named defendant in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit is Becerra’s 50th against the Trump administration.

Becerra, a former congressman, has been on the front line of the legal battle against Trump, filing lawsuits directly challenging the administration’s policies on the immigration, environment, health care and education.

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