News Story

Forced Unionization: Big Labor's Last Stand?

In 1964, nearly half of Michigan's labor force was unionized. Based in a thriving auto industry, 44.8 percent of the state's workers belonged to unions, tops in the country.

In 2009, that percentage dropped to 18.8 percent, according to The state has dropped to No. 6 in terms of the percentage of workers unionized.

Some experts suggest that's the driving force behind the "stealth unionization" in Michigan to rope in sometimes unsuspecting independent contractors who watch children and the elderly and take state subsidies from low-income clients.

With little fanfare, 42,000 personal care assistants were absorbed into the Service Employees International Union in 2005 and 40,000 home-based day care workers were added to the AFSCME-UAW union in 2006.

Neither effort to unionize became public knowledge until more than three years later when the Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed a lawsuit. Some of the daycare workers complained when they learned that some of their state subsidy checks were being docked for union dues.

"What's next?" asks Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. "All foster care workers? Are they going to go after doctors next? You can take it almost as far as the government reaches."

Wright says the "stealth unionization" is the new model of organized labor, which has watched its ranks thin in the private industry.

In 2009, there were more public-sector union members than private for the first time ever in the U.S., according to James Sherk, senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.

Sherk said the lack of a free market in government services has been one reason the public-sector union membership has grown.

Private unions were started as a way for employees to get a share of the profits, he said.

"The government doesn't earn anything," Sherk said.

In the private-sector, if benefits are excessive, competition comes into play and the private company suffers.

"In the government sector, that doesn't exist," Sherk said. "Ask for ridiculous benefits and the taxpayers will pay for it. ... You don't have to worry about the DMV going out of business."

In 2009, public-sector employee compensation was $40 an hour compared to $27 an hour for the private sector, according to 2009 Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

But Wright says that what makes little sense about the "stealth unionization" of daycare workers and personal care assistants is that it has little impact on the working conditions or pay of the union members.

For example, the 40,000-plus daycare workers belong to the Child Care Providers Together-Michigan union and bargain with the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council.

But Wright argues the wages are determined by the parents and the provider, not the MHBCCC.

"Who is responsible for the working conditions? The daycare provider," Wright said.

He notes that a batch of e-mails received by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in a Freedom of Information Act request shine a light on the true goal of the MHBCCC. The e-mails are written by Nick Ciaramitaro, the director of legislation and public policy for AFSCME.  

Caramitaro has not responded to e-mails seeking comment.

In a Sept. 13 e-mail sent to Larry Simmons, chairman of the MHBCCC board of directors, Ciaramitaro spelled out the reasoning for the unionization of day care workers: "As you know, CCPTM20 and MHBCC are somewhat unusual entities. As our economy changes, representation of workers must evolve."

Later, Ciaramitaro tells Simmons that the creation of the daycare union "came about at the recommendation of Michigan AFSCME and the UAW with support of the Executive Office."

In a Sept. 11 e-mail sent to MHBCCC board members, Ciaramitaro stated that "we were of the opinion that the MHBCCC was simply transferring money received from the Department (of Human Services)."

The MHBCCC collects about $2.5 million a year in dues that it takes from state subsidy checks given to home day care workers who receive the money for taking low-income children.

"The old model was a guy who was making us work in sweatshops and paying us pennies on the day," Wright said. "They are slowly withering on the vine and dying with the old model."

Charlie Owens, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said labor unions have lost the battle of ideas in the free marketplace.

"When employees have a free — unintimidated choice (as with a secret ballot election) they reject the union in most cases," Owens wrote in an e-mail. "That is why the unions are resorting to political and legislative means to increase membership. They can only win when they cheat."

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.