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BREAKING NEWS: Michigan Senate Stops Home Health Care 'Dues Skim'

Legislation drafted to put a stop to the “home health care dues skim” passed Thursday by the Senate on a 25-13 vote. All the Republicans voted yes except Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw.

Senate Bill 1018 was the version of the legislation that was passed. It was approved by the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee in the morning on a 5-2 party-line vote and sent to the Senate floor where the vote was taken.

The measure now heads to the House where passage seems virtually guaranteed given that a House bill on this topic already passed. Gov. Rick Snyder should have it on his desk by the end of next week.

“This is the final policy piece that clarifies that these people are not public employees,” said the bill sponsor, Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, during the floor debate over the legislation. “This is to finally end the union dues being taken from those who are not public employees but just people taking care of relatives.”

Sen. Hildenbrand pointed out that the legislature had tried to end the “skim” last year by defunding the Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQC3) — which was the so-called "employer" used in the unionization. However, through bureaucratic juggling, the “skim” continued even after the defunding.

Robert Haynes and his wife Patricia have become the subjects of many news articles, TV and radio accounts of the “skim.” The Hayneses take care of their cerebral palsy-stricken son and daughter in their Macomb Township home. They've had union dues extracted from their checks, although they say they get no benefits from the union.

“It's beginning to look like there might be some light at the end of the tunnel,” Robert Haynes said upon hearing that the legislation passed in the Senate. “Hopefully we're close to seeing this finally ending.”

Charlie Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) called the legislation “necessary.”

“This scheme involves skimming taxpayer dollars from the Department of Community Health budget for payment of union dues in the home-based health care sector and needs to be ended now,” Owens said. “SEIU is concerned enough about losing the lucrative arrangement that it is pursuing a ballot initiative in November to get an amendment to the constitution legitimizing the scheme.”

Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, provided most of the rhetorical opposition to the bill, both on the Senate floor and in committee. He offered a floor amendment that would have essentially gutted the bill. His amendment was easily defeated.

“To go back and end this (unionization) retroactively is unconstitutional,” Sen. Young said. “Not only that; it's just plain wrong.”

The original legislation drafted to stop the “skim” was House Bill 4003, which was passed by the House last June. It was voted out of a Senate committee in December, but appeared to stall on the Senate floor after that.

Then last week, Sen. Hildenbrand introduced Senate Bill 1018, which was a duplicate of House Bill 4003. As a duplicate measure, Senate Bill 1018 garnered 21 Senate Republicans as co-sponsors. Only 20 votes are needed to pass a bill in the Senate.

Introduction of the duplicate bill with so many co-sponsors, showed that the Senate GOP caucus wanted the issue addressed. It also placed responsibility for any future delay in moving the legislation squarely on the shoulders of Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe. Sen. Richardville responded quickly by queuing the measure up for passage.

Inside Michigan Politics Editor Bill Ballenger said he has never seen the duplicate bill maneuver used in the way that Senate Republicans used Senate Bill 1018.

“I don't remember it happening before,” Ballenger said. “Using a duplicate bill in that way, under those circumstances. . . . I mean, to make a statement to a caucus leader. If it's happened before; it wasn't in the past 50 years.”

The “home health care dues skim” resulted from a union scheme perpetrated while Jennifer Granholm was governor. The plan used a dummy employer and a stealth election to railroad 43,729 so-called home health care workers into the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). That 43,729 has now swollen to 60,190.

Once this “forced unionization” was achieved, money started being extracted from the taxpayer-provided checks received by the so-called  “home health care workers.” This money continues to be sent to SEIU as dues. Overall, the “skim” has netted more than $29 million for the SEIU.

A home health care worker registry had been inserted as part of the initial unionization back in 2005, to supposedly put “something of value” in the mix to help protect the unionization. 

Sen. Richardville said he previously had concerns about preserving the registry as a protection against felons and unqualified persons being hired as home health care workers.

Sen. Richardville said that after finding out the “vast majority” involved were relatives and friends caring for loved ones, he decided to support the legislation.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kahn explained his “no” vote on the bill as the result of his continued concern about losing the registry.

“This bill that we just passed is a difficult bill,” Sen. Kahn said. “I still worry about these very ill people hiring someone to take care of them who isn't qualified.”

In six years, the registry — which is voluntary — managed to garner only 933 names.

Well-placed sources have told Capitol Confidential that the decision to move Senate Bill 1018, instead of House Bill 4003, was made for procedural reasons. Assuming Gov. Snyder signs the bill, the dues could stop flowing almost immediately. However, it might take a few months. Under one possible scenario, ultimately stopping the dues-flow could involve the courts.

In the committee debate over Senate Bill 1018, Sen. Young argued that the home health care workers had shown that they wanted to be in the union.

“More than 20,000 of them signed cards,” Sen. Young said. “And the ballots came back with 92 percent voting to join the union. I don't think you can ignore that. You can't just pass this bill and pretend none of this ever happened.”

Based on recently acquired information, telling the so-called home health care workers that signing the cards gave them a chance to get health care benefits and a wage increase was enough to get most of the signatures. Telling the “workers” that signing the cards simply allowed an election to take place was another possible way of getting them to sign.

The result of the unpublicized election was 6,949-yes to 1,007-no, with 12 ballots disputed. and 589 spoiled. The 6,949 yes votes represented 32.3 percent of the number of signed cards and 15.8 percent of the 43,729 that were supposed to receive ballots.

“This (the unionization) was set up very uniquely,” Sen. Hildenbrand said in response to Sen. Young.

Nick Ciaramitaro, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) testified against the bill.

“Simply because these people are getting paid with government subsidies shouldn't keep them from being allowed to collective bargain,” Ciaramitaro said. “This involves state law and you have a right to do this. We will pursue it, possibly through federal law.”

AFSCME was involved in Michigan's other forced unionization that took place while Jennifer Granholm was governor. That was the unionization of childcare (daycare) workers. Gov. Snyder ended that arrangement early in 2011.

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.