Blog Archives

Compelling Personal Care Workers to Pay Union Dues Violates Our Freedom of Speech: But I Still Have to Pay My HOA Dues!

I live in a community that requires homeowner association monthly dues.  We have a homeowner association (HOA).  More than once I have complained at the high cost of these monthly dues and the absurd endeavors on which our HOA spends my money.  For example, we had a beautiful, clay tennis court.  If you have ever played tennis on a clay court, you know how wonderful it is to play on clay.  Clay tennis courts are also expensive to build.  A few years ago, my HOA decided to turn the clay tennis courts into a gardening center.  In place of the tennis nets, they built 10-12 raised beds to which the homeowners could purchase rights to use.  Somehow, my HOA determined the clay tennis court would be better used as a place to hold raised beds instead of playing tennis.

Despite my intense disapproval of this decision, I was forced to continue to pay my HOA dues, and a part of my HOA dues was spent on the conversion from tennis court to garden center.

Not completely dissimilar, in many states, public sector workers are required to contribute to union dues, even if they disagree with the union’s actions.  In-home care workers are considered public sector workers in Illinois because they care for the disabled and elderly and accept Medicaid money.  Including Illinois, 19 states allow bargaining agreements for home care workers.

Last week the Supreme Court sent shockwaves to the 19 states that allow bargaining agreements with home care workers.  The Supreme Court held that Illinois cannot compel personal care workers to pay union dues.

You may be asking yourself, why is Knicole blogging about an Illinois lawsuit and union dues.  How in the world does this affect North Carolina health care providers who accept Medicare and Medicaid?

The narrow answer would be that the case has no effect whatsoever on NC health care providers.  Unlike Illinois, North Carolina does not allow public sector bargaining.  In fact, in NC, union contracts, or bargaining contracts for public sector employees are considered “illegal, unlawful, void and of no effect.”  N.C. Gen. Stat. 95-98.

A broader view, on the other hand, is to understand that increases or decreases in personal care wages, better or worse benefits provided to personal care workers, and the overall profit or loss of personal care workers across the country, is relevant to NC personal care workers, and I prefer this broader view.

In the Supreme Court case, Harris, et al v. Quinn, Justice Alito wrote that compelling public sector workers to compensate a third party to “speak” for them, even if the worker disagrees with the third party’s speech violates the First Amendment.

In the Supreme Court opinion, Justice Alito writes:

“If we accepted Illinois’ argument, we would approve an unprecedented violation of the bedrock principle that, except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.”

Individual states determine labor laws related to government employees.  As previously stated, NC bans bargaining agreements.  Virginia does as well.

In states that do allow bargaining agreements, if workers did not want to participate in the bargaining unit, the worker would opt out of full dues and pay only the cost of grievance administration and collective bargaining.  Supposedly, this prevents the nonmembers, who benefit from the reward of collectively-bargained higher wages or better benefits, from reaping the benefits without paying for them.  The whole “free-ride” idea…

In Illinois, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a bargaining unit, argued that personal care workers should be compelled to contribute to it because personal care workers are public sector workers.

SEIU claims that it gets higher pay and better benefits for personal care workers.  Approximately 1 million of the 3 million personal care workers nationwide are members of SEIU or other similar organizations.

However, the Supreme Court disagrees.  According to the Harris decision, I shouldn’t have to pay for HOA dues if I disagree with the HOA’s actions (I’m kidding.  Sadly, I have no case to cease paying my HOA dues).

Proponents of unions are not happy with the results, but let’s play out a hypothetical…what if the Supreme Court held that public sector workers were required to pay union dues, even against their will….

Because, think about it…the government cannot prevent us from contributing to political candidates nor can the candidate force you to contribute to a political campaign.  Upholding the freedom of speech is not necessarily anti-union.  The Supreme Court did not rule “against” unions per se.  It ruled that a bargaining unit is “bargaining for” or “speaking for” its members.  And you cannot be forced to pay for speech with which you disagree.

Free speech allows all of us to individually decide which principles to support.  Allowing personal care workers to choose not to support certain ideologies is not an attack on collective bargaining.  Rather, it ensures that the free choices of personal care workers are represented by any union entity, rather than union leaders benefiting from coerced fees.

While the Harris decision does not apply to me and my HOA dues for many reasons, including the fact that I chose to live in the community knowing that the HOA existed, the Harris decision does have possible broad ramifications, especially as to in-home care workers and other public sector workers.  It may mean that the 1 million in-home care workers now compelled to contribute to unions may have standing to stop if they so choose.

Wanted: North Carolina Medicaid Director: Transparent and Open!

With Carol Steckel’s abrupt resignation September 27, 2013, only 8 months after accepting the job as NC Medicaid Director, we North Carolinians were left without a Medicaid Director.  I posted a week or so ago that I can only imagine how difficult it would be to fill the position, considering the absolute mess the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has created recently…the calamity of NCTracks…the negative PR…the high salaries of administration…Who would want to inherit this mess???

While I cannot imagine the person who would actually apply to be our Medicaid Director in the midst of such storms, I do have some advice for whomever attempts to carry the burden of being NC’s Medicaid Director. 

I don’t know why Ms. Steckel left.  I’ve heard numerous hypotheses.  I’ve heard that she didn’t get along with Sect. Wos.  I’ve heard that she left because the NC Medicaid system cannot be fixed.  I’ve heard the bad media press upset her.  I’ve heard she couldn’t handle the scrutiny of the public.

Regardless, anyone who is thinking of applying to be our Medicaid Director needs to understand that this is a public servant job.  This is not a private sector job.  Why is that important?  Because as an officer in the public arena, you are accountable to the taxpayers.  You cannot hide behind rhetoric or stop speaking to media.  As a public servant, you have duty to be transparent to taxpayers.  You will be scrutinized by the public…and this is allowed.

Recently, Secretary Wos responded with this comment when asked about transparency… “I think the word transparency can get pretty dangerous. … If transparency means that we’re in a planning process and you’re asking us, ‘Tell us all the things you’re planning,’ well, my goodness, allow us to work, and then we’ll give you everything that you want.”

While I understand Sect. Wos’ assertion that if all we do is talk then nothing gets done, in the public sector, transparency is, not only desired by taxpayers, but public servants owe a duty to be transparent.  Public servants are not spending their own money.  It’s my money and your money.  We deserve to know how our money is being spent and we deserve to have an opinion as to whether our money is being spent in an economically intelligent fashion.

For example, my blog about the managed care organizations paying the health insurance for its employees and the employees’ families was to point out that our tax dollars are paying for these employees’ families’ health insurance…tax dollars that are meant to provide health insurance to our most needy population.

Similarly, all the media hype about the high salaries of the two 24-year-old staffers, who were given salaries making $85,000 or more, the media are angered because, again, those salaries are paid by us.

Because the money that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) spends is our money, not private funds, transparency is essential. 

A few weeks ago, when I flew to New Mexico, I had to go through airport security.  I had to take off my shoes (yuck! and walk on the airport floor), place my purse and laptop on the conveyor belt and step into the “All-Seeing Machine.”  You know, the machine that you have to place your feet a little apart and raise your hands above your head, while the machine whirls around your body.  I always feel slightly mortified every time I have to go through that machine.  I even suck in my breathe a little so my belly doesn’t poke out.  It is just a strange feeling to have a stranger look that closely at you and scrutinize your body.  You never know what the person looking at your image is thinking.  Being scrutinized is not fun.

Similarly, as NC Medicaid Director, and a public servant, you will be scrutinized.  Every word.  Every action…and non-action.

Remember Mary Poppins?  Remember the sweet, little song the two children sang about the criteria for their new nanny?

If you want this choice position
Have a cheery disposition
Rosy cheeks, no warts!
Play games, all sort

You must be kind, you must be witty
Very sweet and fairly pretty
Take us on outings, give us treats
Sing songs, bring sweets

Never be cross or cruel
Never give us castor oil or gruel
Love us as a son and daughter
And never smell of barley water…

Well it applies to the Medicaid Director position too.  Here is the “Perfect NC Medicaid Director Song:”

If you want this choice position
Have an open disposition
Know Medicaid laws and rules
Don’t treat media as fools
 
You must be strong, you must be smart
Very tenacious, open heart
Take on naysayers, show guts
Move our Agency out of ruts
 
Be transparent, don’t circumvent
Never say to media, “No comment.” 
Love our citizens; our state
And always, always update…

I found the job posting for our Medicaid Director on the National Association of Medicaid Directors’ (NAMD) website.

Here it is:

DIRECTOR OF MEDICAL ASSISTANCE

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in collaboration with our partners, protects the health and safety of all North Carolinians and provides essential human services.

Within DHHS, the Division of Medical Assistance (DMA) provides access to high quality, medically necessary health care for eligible North Carolina residents through cost-effective purchasing of health care services and products. The Department of Health and Human Services and DMA are devoted to quality customer service.

The Director of Medicaid directs the administration of the state’s Medicaid and NC Health Choice Programs. The Medicaid program serves more that 1.7 million North Carolinians and provides services to children, the elderly, the blind, the disabled and those eligible to receive federally funded assisted income maintenance payments. The North Carolina Health Choice (NCHC) Health Insurance Program for Children is a comprehensive health coverage program for low-income children. The goal of NCHC is to reduce the number of uninsured children in the State. The program focus is on families who make too much income to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private or employer-sponsored health insurance.

DMA has approximately 400 employees and a budget impact of 14 billion dollars which includes 3.8 billion in state appropriations. DMA partners with over 78,000 physician providers throughout the state to provide essential services to recipients. The Director is responsible for multi-million dollar contracts and performs an array of fiscal agent and administrative services which include cost reimbursement and integrated payment management reporting to local management entities (area mental health programs). The position manages the state waiver program and demonstration projects. The Director is the primary interface with the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and for the Committee Management Office. (CMO)

KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND ABILITIES:

Prior leadership and policy role in large complex organization administering the Medicaid Program or within a Medicaid Reimbursement or Health Insurance Agency
Demonstrated knowledge of the federal and state funding process for Medicaid and Medicare
Proven ability to build consensus among diverse stake holders which includes constituents, providers, advocacy groups, the media, the public and the legislature
Demonstrated ability to provide leadership during a time of change or reorganization

MINIMUM EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE REQUIREMENTS:

A Masters Degree in Business, Public Health, Health Administration, Social or Clinical Science or a related field and six years of broad management experience in Health Administration or in Healthcare financial management of which at least three years must be at the Director or Assistant Director level of a statewide or federal division in Health Administration or Financial Management.

To be considered for this opportunity please submit a detailed resume to alma.troutman@dhhs.nc.gov

To learn more about the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, please visit our web site at: www.ncdhhs.gov

All applications will remain confidential.
Equal Opportunity Employer

Nowhere in the advertisement for the NC Medicaid Director does it say what the Medicaid Director ACTUALLY has to do in real life.

Undergo scrutiny.  Talk to the public.  Maintain transparency. Be a public figure in a time of crisis.

It’s our money.  So talk to us.