Union blames 'right-wing forces' for end of scheme that locked 45K workers into the SEIU
The union that took more than $34 million from the Medicaid checks of the elderly and disabled in Michigan before the scheme officially ended this year, wants those workers — and their money — back in.
Only this time the SEIU Healthcare Michigan, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, is organizing to try to convince the 45,000-plus workers who no longer are forced to pay dues to instead voluntarily do so. The union believes the home-based caregivers are still members.
"[T]hey are members and will continue to remain eligible as members," said a document that outlined the union's plans to try to regain the home-based caregivers as members. "The only question is the dues structure."
The union contract ended Feb. 28 and the board that oversees the negotiations said it won't be renewed. Also, the union no longer is the exclusive bargaining agent for the workers and the board that served as the middleman in negotiations was dissolved last month.
According to the plan, which is detailed in a nine-page background paper obtained by Michigan Capitol Confidential, the SEIU Healthcare Michigan wants to continue to access the thousands of home-based caregivers who were freed from the forced unionization and lure them back in by offering them a dues-free grace period and reduced dues rate.
Having continued access to the home-based caregivers also would potentially give SEIU Healthcare Michigan President Marge Faville a stronger hold on her $165,000 a year job.
Faville would also continue to have an excuse to use by-mail inner-union elections. However, mail-in elections have upset some members of the union and led to a lawsuit to try to prohibit the practice.
"The only thing I can see as a reason for her (Faville) doing this is to stay in power," said Kenneth Haney, a Detroit Medical Center employee and former union steward. "If she can keep holding elections in which the ballots are mailed out she could continue to monopolize the union."
In late March, Faville won re-election in a disputed by-mail election of union officers. It was the first union officer election SEIU Healthcare Michigan had ever conducted through the mail. Previously, members cast their ballots at specific voting sites. Her opponents within the union have filed a complaint about the election and expect the results to be nullified and another election to take place.
"It seems unlikely that many home-based caregivers would want to add to the $34 million that the SEIU improperly took," said Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "But the SEIU is allowed to seek voluntary dues contributions."
As of April 1 of this year, the roughly 45,000 home-based caregivers are no longer in the union. However, the SEIU collected about $6 million a year in its dues scheme and it wants as much of that to continue as possible.
The union document opens as follows:
The purpose of this paper is to tell the story of how home care workers in Michigan won the legal rights and benefits of representation by the SEIU [Service Employees International Union] and how right wing forces stripped these dedicated caregivers of their ability to have collective bargaining with the union of their choice as their exclusive representative. This story underscores why the executive board of SEIU HCMI believes it is right and just and necessary to waive minimum dues and establish a fair fixed dues structure which empowers home care workers to maintain continuing membership in our union.
The union document blasted "right-wing forces" for stopping the scheme and notably mentioned the Mackinac Center for Public Policy multiple times. It also made special note of a "skim-o-meter" that keep track of money the union was taking from home-based caregivers. That was in reference to the "skim tracker" that was on Michigan Capitol Confidential's website.
Several paragraphs then talk about benefits the union supposedly provided, but they omit numerous facts, such as:
- That collective bargaining involved a contrived dummy employer that could do virtually nothing for the home-based caregivers;
- That (based on documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act) the dummy employer's primary monthly focus was making sure the union got its dues money;
- That 63 percent of the home-based caregivers were family members or friends taking care of loved ones, and;
- That there was so little demand for the dummy employer's background check registry that it has now been absorbed by the Department of Community Health without a single additional employee being needed to maintain it.
There is another significant piece of information in the document. At several points in the document, the Michigan Quality Community Care Council (the entity that was created to help coordinate payments to the union) is referred to as the "employer" of the caregivers. At one point, the document states that "the State had already taken steps to dismantle MQC3, meaning that there would be no employer with whom to bargain after April 2013."
It is significant that the SEIU calls the MQC3 the employer of those workers because the MQC3 disagreed. In a Freedom of Information Act request last year, documents from the MQC3 to home caregivers specifically said the MQC3 was not the employer. Under the heading: "What the MQC3 Is Not" it said in bold: "We are not your employer: The Consumer is your employer."
The union wants to overturn Public Act 76, which outlawed the SEIU scheme.
SEIU Healthcare Michigan spokesman Zac Altefogt did not respond to a request for comment.
(Editor's note: The story has been edited since its original posting. More detail about the "right-wing forces" that the union blamed for ending the unionization of home-based caregivers has been added to the story.)