The impending closure of the Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQC3) should free some 55,000 home care workers (as well as registered nurses, nursing home aides and hospital support staff) from government union membership. But these workers may not be able to toss out their membership cards just yet.
Formed through an interlocal agreement between the Michigan Department of Community Health and the Tri-County Aging Consortium, the MQC3 is the so-called government “employer” for members of SEIU Healthcare Michigan and with whom the union has had a collective bargaining agreement since 2006. The SEIU takes union dues from the Medicaid subsidies paid to the home care providers. The dues have steadily risen to nearly $6 million a year during the union’s five-year existence.
MQC3 itself was funded by the state and operated through the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) on a $1 million annual budget. Last May, however, state lawmakers zeroed out MQC3 funding from the MDCH budget for fiscal year 2012.
The MQC3 confirmed this budget cut in recent letters sent to its ‘clients.’ A Sept. 6, 2011, letter to one such recipient reads:
“We are very sorry to have to tell you that the Michigan Quality Community Care Council (QC3) may no longer be able to assist you in finding Home Help Providers. This program will end on September 30th unless the State of Michigan is able to find a way to continue funding this program. While we hope to be able to continue providing this service, we wanted you to be aware that, at this time, we have no information regarding further funding.”
Susan Steinke, executive director of the MQC3, has indicated that the agency “is allowed to raise private funding.” When asked last week if the agency is pursuing public or private funding to continue operation beyond Sept. 30, she confirmed that the agency is looking at all options, but preparing to close its doors.
SEIU “Remains in Force”
It appears that regardless of the MQC3’s existence, SEIU Healthcare Michigan will remain in operation. Steinke told the Mackinac Center that the collective bargaining agreement “remains in force between us (MQC3) and the union.” But when asked how this is possible if the MQC3 will not stay open beyond Sept. 30, Steinke deferred to the SEIU Healthcare Michigan, saying only that the CBA has “machinations” that allow the CBA to remain “in force.”
Mackinac Center Legal Foundation Director Patrick Wright says any scenario that would allow SEIU Healthcare Michigan to continue to operate is suspect. “If there is no public employer, then the home health providers cannot be public employees and there is no justification for mandatory collective bargaining. The state of Michigan should cease collecting so-called ‘dues’ immediately.”
As for these dues, it is unclear how the MQC3’s closing would affect the way they are handled. The agency had been acting as the ‘pass-through’ for the dues, first collecting them from the Michigan Department of Community Health, then distributing a portion of the providers’ Medicaid subsidies to the union.
When asked about union dues after Sept. 30, an MDCH spokesperson told the Mackinac Center in an email, “Once we receive word from MQC3 regarding what they plan to do, we will do a legal review to determine that.”
SEIU Healthcare Michigan has yet to return calls for comment.
In the meantime, Wright said the SEIU targeted the private home care providers just as AFSCME and the UAW targeted home day care owners and providers because the unions saw the providers’ government subsidy checks as dues-paying wells. The unions and some high placed government officials then worked around the legislature to give these providers government employee status using ‘interlocal agreements’ to set up so-called ‘employers”. (Note: the day care union scheme ended following a Mackinac Center Legal Foundation lawsuit.)
Legislature can end stealth unionization scheme, “once and for all”
Wright says right now, the Legislature is poised to end the entire scheme, once and for all.
He points to HB 4003, which would ensure that independent contractors such as home health and day care providers who are paid with government subsidies are not considered government employees. Therefore they could not be forced into a government employee union. The state house has already passed the measure. HB 4003 currently sits before the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee. The committee has not touched the bill since it passed the House in June.
“Both this unionization and the day care unionization were accomplished in an underhanded manner meant to circumvent the Legislature,” Wright said. “One way that body can right this wrong and reassert its Constitutional authority by passing HB 4003, which would explicitly ban them now and prevent such dubious unionizations in the future.”