By The Associated Press Thursday, April 23, 2015, 4:12 p.m.
Updated 3 hours ago
A Pennsylvania judge Thursday put a hold on an element of a Gov. Tom Wolf policy that critics describe as an illegal attempt to unionize home care workers who look after elderly and disabled people.
Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini’s order will prevent the administration from entering into written agreements while a legal challenge to Wolf’s new policy is pending, but he did not grant requests to halt other key aspects of the policy.
“For present purposes, the process contemplated by the executive order will continue,” administration lawyer Geoff Moulton told reporters in a conference call. “We’re really quite pleased with the result in Commonwealth Court today.”
Wolf’s executive order on Feb. 27 formed an advisory group on care workers and directed his human services secretary to meet with people who represent workers who are paid through a state program. The court declined to stop elections to select those representatives and is not preventing them from meeting with acting Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas.
The meetings, designed to discuss issues of mutual concern, cannot result in written memorandums of understanding, the judge said. Administration officials say the memos described in the governor’s order were meant to be nonbinding.
A Phoenixville man with muscular dystrophy and the worker he has employed for 25 years are pursuing the legal challenge. David Osborne, a lawyer for the men, said the election of representatives will be meaningless because unions will not be able to reach terms with the state, and the state will not be able to help collect dues.
Opponents of Wolf’s policy argue it will change for the worse the relationship between home care workers and the people they serve and result in home care workers paying union dues.
“It is specifically putting in place the infrastructure to quickly unionize,” said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans.
GOP leaders in both legislative chambers filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case, arguing that Wolf’s order infringes on the General Assembly’s exclusive power to make laws.
Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said the process will not grant collective bargaining rights or force anyone to join a union.
“All this does is give the front-line workers that are the home care industry, the home care attendants, it gives them a voice to meet with the secretary of human services and discuss ways to improve the industry, and to improve conditions for workers,” Sheridan said.
Wolf’s lawyers said both sides are expected to make oral arguments in Commonwealth Court in September.