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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Decision Supports Governor Wolf’s Executive Order on Home Care

September 27th, 2018

By Bruce M. Ludwig

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Decision Supports Governor Wolf’s Executive Order on Home CareIn 2015, Governor Wolf issued an executive order concerning home care services in Pennsylvania. Among other things, this executive order permitted direct care workers who provide home care services to seniors and persons with disabilities to elect a representative organization for the purpose of meeting and conferring with the Department of Human Services, which administers various publicly funded home care programs in Pennsylvania. There are approximately 20,000 such direct care workers throughout the commonwealth. Governor Wolf’s executive order recognized that these direct care workers typically earn low wages and receive no benefits, paid time off or standardized training. As a result, the pool of direct care workers available for Pennsylvania residents in need of home care services suffers from high turnover and inconsistent quality.

Under the terms of the executive order, the United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania, a joint project of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), won an election to become the representative of the direct care workers. By recognizing the United Homecare Workers of Pennsylvania as a representative of the direct care workers, these workers, for the first time, will have a voice to raise their legitimate concerns to policy makers in the executive branch of government.

Shortly after this election, various groups, including the right wing financed Fairness Center, filed a challenge to the governor in the commonwealth court. The commonwealth court enjoined the executive order finding it was an unlawful exercise of the governor’s powers. The governor appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which on August 21, issued its long-awaited decision. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 5 to 2 decision, held that the governor acted within his constitutional powers to issue the executive order. The supreme court rejected the challenges to the governor’s authority, specifically holding that the executive order was a legitimate directive to subordinate state officials to obtain input from stakeholders, including from the representative of the direct care workers, that it did not interfere with the rights of consumers to hire, fire and supervise their direct care workers and that it did not establish a system of collective bargaining.

Before the supreme court there were multiple amici briefs supporting the governor, including a brief filed by the law firm of Willig, Williams & Davidson on behalf of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and other labor organizations, including AFSCME Council 13, AFSCME District Council 33, AFTPA, APSCUF, CWA District 2-13, District 1199C, the Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters, the Pennsylvania Professional Firefighters Association, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, SEIU Local 32BJ, SEIU Local 668 and UFCW Local 1776. The Democratic Caucuses of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and of the Senate of Pennsylvania separately filed a friend of the court
brief in support of the governor’s executive order. Several disability rights organizations also expressed their support for the governor’s efforts to improve the system of long-term care in Pennsylvania.

Among the groups filing amici briefs for those opposed to governor’s executive order were the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Senate President Scarnati and Speaker of the House Turzai.

While the supreme court remanded the case to the commonwealth court on a privacy issue not addressed by the commonwealth court, the supreme court’s opinion clears the way for the governor to move forward with his program to improve home care services and to receive input through a meet and confer process from a representative of the direct care workers. This represents a major victory for those workers, the unions which support them, the governor, and seniors and people with disabilities who need quality home care services.

Willig, Williams & Davidson and the unions which filed the amici brief are proud to have participated in this important decision. If there are further developments in the case, the law firm will keep you informed. If you are a homecare worker dedicated to providing quality services to your clients, but have questions about your legal rights, contact us at (215) 656-3600.

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