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Michigan Senate bills would revive dues skim for home health workers

Government employees can opt out of unions, but Senate Bill 790 would make it much harder

If you’re not familiar with the phrase “dues skim,” that’s because it was a battle fought and won more than a decade ago.

Years before dues skim went away, home health workers — often people taking care of loved ones who cannot take care of themselves — would realize that their paychecks were light.

Then they found out why: They were paying a union they never signed up for or received benefits from. Dues were being skimmed from their paychecks, and nobody even bothered to ask. That practice was put to rest in 2013. 

But the old days of dues skim would return under Senate Bill 790, which was submitted Thursday by Sen. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores.

Officially, the 15-page bill says it would create the Home Health Caregiver Council, a seven-member board that would oversee issues involving those workers. The council would set compensation rates and issue checks for home health workers.

It would also be authorized to deduct union fees. Under the previous iteration of dues skim, the Service Employees International Union pulled in about $34 million between November 2006 and February 2013.

The dues skim ended in March 2013, when the SEIU’s contract expired.

“The checks mailed in March are expected to be the last ones from which union dues will be deducted,” CapCon reported back then.

The same day Hertel submitted Senate Bill 790, the SEIU announced plans to spend $200 million to re-elect President Joe Biden.

The new scheme would make opt-outs onerous. Thanks to the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision Janus v. AFSCME, government employees have a First Amendment right to opt out of unions. But Senate Bill 790 is not written to make opt-outs easy.

The home health worker who wanted to leave the union would have to ask the union, not the newly created state council. And the union, not the council, would be the one to process the cancellation.

“The council shall rely on information provided by the bargaining representative regarding whether deductions for a labor organization were properly canceled or changed, and the labor organization shall indemnify the council for any claims made by the individual home help caregiver for deductions made in reliance on that information,” reads a portion of the bill.

Senate Bill 790 is tie-barred with Senate Bill 791. That means both must be enacted into law for either to take effect.

Senate Bill 791 changes a law in Michigan that removes caregivers from the definition of “public employee.” That law was enacted in response to the dues skim of the past.

In November 2012, the people of Michigan rejected Proposal 4 of 2012. According to Ballotpedia, the people of Michigan rejected Proposal 4 by a 56-44 margin. The proposal would have allowed in-home care workers to collectively bargain.

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.