The union-dues story hit the state Capitol this week with a thud. Reactions might best be described as awkward. At issue was the discovery that a defunded state agency is still transferring money from home health care workers to a government employees union, in spite of the fact that the Legislature's defunding of the agency was intended to bring the practice to an end. In response to the revelation, most lawmakers seemed at a loss for words.
“I could comment, but frankly I'm not all that clear about what's going on,” one lawmaker told Capitol Confidential. “I guess I'd just as soon not say anything right now.”
“As far as the House is concerned, there hasn't been funding for this since Oct. 1,” said Rep. Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham. “If these allegations are true, someone doesn't want to achieve the same ends that we do. Anytime someone has said anything about continuing this, our answer has been, 'Not interested.' ”
Rep. Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt, is the sponsor of Michigan House Bill 4003, legislation designed to prohibit the so-called “forced unionization” of private contractors whose receipt of payments from state government opened the gates to the contentious "dues deductions" to a government employee union to begin with. Rep. Opsommer's bill was passed by the House on June 18, with a 63-46 vote, but it has been stalled in the Senate Committee on Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing ever since.
“I'd just say that I'm disappointed,” Rep. Opsommer said upon hearing that the dues collection had not ended. “No one who is not a member of a union should be getting union dues taken out of their checks. These are not public employees.”
Last week, Capitol Confidential reported that the Service Employees International Union is still receiving "dues" deducted from the checks of the state's home health care workers. It had been assumed that when the Michigan Legislature cut off funding to the Michigan Quality Community Care Council, known as the "MQC3," on Oct.1, the dues deductions would stop. Yet according to the Michigan Department of Community Health, the dues are still being deducted.
Based on emails obtained by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy through the Freedom of Information Act, lawmakers, particularly Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, have been pressing behind the scenes to keep the MQC3 going. The agency's continued operation has kept the dues flowing to the SEIU.
Judy Hendrixson, a home health care worker in Roscommon, said she was amazed that the SEIU dues are still being taken out of her checks.
“This never should have happened in the first place,” Hendrixson said, referring to the forced unionization. “And now that it (the MQC3) is supposed to be gone, there's no way they should still be taking dues out of our checks.”
Hendrixson, a former SEIU union representative, said she can't figure out how the union is getting away with the continued dues collections.
“These are Medicaid funds that are ending up being transferred to a union,” Hendrixson said. “I'm an independent contractor. It's fraudulent and illegal. You're talking about a large number of people who live and work from the southern border to the U.P. We have no common meeting place or means of communicating with each other. Who is my union steward?”
At least two dubious devices were utilized in the “forced unionization.” First, under the auspices of the administration of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the MQC3 was created to play the role of "employer" over the workers. Many argue that allowing the MQC3 to assume this role in collective bargaining with a government employee union was illegal.
Next, SEIU took advantage of the fact that Michigan has no law requiring public notice of elections to decide whether workers will join government employee unions. In the private sector, union certification elections elections traditionally take place in factories or other single sites. Typically, workers at these sites already know when such elections will take place, having received official notice privately, and having learned of the election from co-workers.
But the “forced unionization” election in the case of the home health care workers involved independent contractors working in homes across the state, rather than employees located at one or two central buildings.
The Michigan Bureau of Employment Relations is responsible for coordinating labor elections. Its stated mission is to settle disagreements between employees and their employers. But in the “forced unionization,” most of the alleged employees apparently didn't even know MQC3 was acting as their employer.
According to the MBER, it sent out ballots to 43,000 home health care workers statewide in November 2006. Because there was no public notice requirement, no radio, TV, newspaper or online news service was aware that the election was taking place.
How many of the home health care workers knew what was going on? How many tossed the ballot envelopes away believing the ballots had nothing whatsoever to do with them?
According to the MBER, the election results were 6,949 "yes," 1,007 "no" and 589 spoiled. The 8,545 who participated in the election represented about 20 percent of the ballots that were sent out. On the basis of this election, the SEIU started receiving $6 million a year through dues deducted from the state checks sent to home health care workers.
Hasan Zahdeh, a cardiovascular interventional technologist at the Mercy Health Partners Hackley Campus in Muskegon, said he was “amazed” when he heard about the current pressure to keep the MQC3 alive.
“Here's a Republican lawmaker doing this? How can he justify it?” Zahdeh asked, in reference to Sen. Kahn. “I thought lawmakers take an oath of office to uphold the constitution.”
“If the MQC3 has been defunded, the only way it can continue to exist is by stealing,” Zahdeh continued. “How else can it continue to pay for staff and other costs? If they're still taking dues out of health care workers' paychecks, it's illegal."
Kahn's office was contacted in reference to this article. No comment was offered.
Michigan was not the only state in which “forced unionization” has taken place. In Illinois, it happened under now disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The SEIU figured largely in the criminal complaint against Blagojevich.
A “forced unionization” of Michigan's home-based day care workers also took place under former Gov. Granholm. The unions involved in that case were the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the United Auto Workers.
Documents pertaining to that “forced unionization” from the federal lawsuit filed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation can be viewed by clicking here.
Other links of interest regarding this topic are here.