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On Sept. 16, 2009, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Human Services on behalf of two home child care providers. The two women, Sherry Loar and Dawn Ives, had been swept into a government employee union on the ludicrous claim they were public employees because one or more of their customers received child care subsidies from the state. The suit sought to make the DHS stop removing so-called union dues from the state subsidy checks — a remedy that would affect more than 40,000 home day care workers in Michigan. The plight of these women inspired other providers to contact the Mackinac Center. Two are now clients.
Paulette Silverson said: "Eight kids of our own — born in ten years — so we had a very busy day care of our own here for all those years, and I went back to work in medical research for a year and found out that my calling was with kids. So after two years of twiddling my thumbs, I started this."
Nearly 13 years later, with a license to care for 12 children, Paulette Silverson has never looked back.
"Have loved it every minute of it," Silverson said. "There's nothing like working with kids."
Like tens of thousands of home child care providers in Michigan, Paulette was recently surprised by the discovery she is now a member of a government employee union.
According to Silverson: "All of a sudden, a year ago — December, just before Christmas — I opened a letter in the mail. It was a postcard — I don't quite remember what it was — and it was a notification welcoming me into the UAW, and I thought 'huh? I am now a union member.'"
Michelle Berry of Flint Township had a similar reaction when she made the same discovery.
"I was shocked," Berry said. "We got a letter in the mail, said it's going to happen. Starting this date, this is what's going to happen, and the more you make the more they take."
Working in the economically hard-hit city of Flint, Michelle has been known to purchase winter coats and clothing for the children she watches, or even care for them late into the night so a mom can work an extra shift. For Michelle, the money withheld from every DHS subsidy check for so-called union dues affects her job and her home.
"I'd like to see the bleed stop," Berry said. "Because that's how I feed my family and take care of my family and take care of the families that come, and we do so much for so many of the families that receive the assistance and the lower income families, that it makes it rough for them."
Michelle and Paulette have both signed on as Mackinac Center clients, and are poised to join the Center's lawsuit against the DHS. Mackinac Center Legal Foundation Director Patrick Wright says the DHS has responded to the lawsuit by asking that the Court of Appeals dismiss the case. Wright says the DHS's argument is curious.
"What was odd with DHS is that they only argued your procedural or technical things," Wright said. "They made no attempt to argue the substance of the lawsuit at this point. Now, again, they don't have to, but it's somewhat telling that they didn't. It kind of indicates that they probably think that their merits aren't that strong."
In the meantime, Paulette and Michelle wait in the wings, without any perceivable benefit from their purported union "membership," despite the fact that the union receives an estimated $3.7 million annually from these so-called union dues.
According to Berry, "We don't have monthly meetings. We don't get newsletters. There's no communication. We just — we have a deduction taken from a check, and where that goes, I have no clue."
"They say on there, 'We are going to be helping you with training,'" said Silverson. "It's nothing new, it's nothing innovative, it's nothing that's going to help us."
Both also stress the principle, not the amount of money taken from the state subsidy.
"Well, they're taking 1.15 percent, and that's what they're starting at," Berry said. "What if they take 5 percent? What if they take 10 percent? You know? It could be $500 a year that we're paying for. And I think it's wrong."
Silverson said: "That's what my goal would be: just to have it stopped. I don't care about getting any money back. Just stop it."
Kathy Hoekstra is a communications specialist at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited. Click here for more on the Mackinac Center lawsuit, Loar v. DHS.