When Michigan home-based day care providers were roped into a government-sector union last year, those behind the scheme must have felt they had pulled off a silent coup. A new union had been created, 40,000 members were dragooned into its ranks, and millions of dollars in "dues" were siphoned from their paychecks with almost no one in the media, public or Legislature taking notice.
It was not until the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation took the case on behalf of some day care owners that this stealth enterprise came to public light — and in a big way. Today, national media outlets are covering the story, the public is demanding answers, and legislators are finally taking action.
It began in September 2009, when the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation announced its lawsuit to prevent the Michigan Department of Human Services from withholding dues from subsidy payments made to providers on behalf of low-income families. The announcement received statewide and some national media coverage, but the sordid tale began to reach an audience of millions on Dec. 26, when The Wall Street Journal ran a 1,000-word Op-Ed titled "Michigan Forces Business Owners Into Public Sector Unions" by MCLF Director Patrick Wright and Mackinac Center Senior Director of Communications Michael Jahr.
On that same day, Family News in Focus aired an interview with Mackinac Center President Joseph Lehman discussing the case. Broadcast news reporter John Stossel wrote about the plight of MCLF client Michelle Berry on the Fox Business Web site the following day. The Weekly Standard, in its Dec. 28, 2009, issue, ran a lengthy article by Wright and Jahr on the "Stealth Unionization" effort.
2010 began with disappointing news when Wright received notice from the Michigan Court of Appeals that the lawsuit against the DHS was denied — without a single word of explanation. But the Center decided to turn a temporary setback in the courts into a victory in the court of public opinion. In a news release, Wright questioned the court's unwillingness to provide a rationale for rejecting a case involving thousands of Michiganders, millions of dollars and allegations of state wrongdoing. "The court's decision is unfortunate," Wright said. "It means the people of Michigan are unsure about the state of the law and their rights."
The story received coverage in newspapers and on broadcast outlets throughout the state, including the Lansing State Journal, The Flint Journal, the Petoskey News-Review, WILX News 10 in Lansing, WEYI NBC25 in Flint, WNEM TV5 in Saginaw, WJR 760 AM in Detroit, WHMI 93.5 FM in Howell, WCMU in Mt. Pleasant, WTCM Talk Radio in Traverse City, WSGW Newsradio 790 in Saginaw, MIRS capitol wire service and numerous online sites from blogs to sites like BigGovernment.com and the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.
The Weekly Standard responded to the court decision by encouraging Michigan's gubernatorial candidates to make the case a campaign issue: "Whether or not the Mackinac Center decides to appeal, it's an issue that just might resonate in a year replete with indications that voters are sick and tired of government highhandedness."
On Feb. 11, the Fox News Channel aired a four-minute John Stossel segment on the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation's lawsuit, at times using footage taken by Mackinac Center Communications Specialist Kathy Hoekstra. Aired on "Studio B with Shepard Smith," the piece highlighted MCLF clients Sherry Loar, Dawn Ives and Michelle Berry, as well as Wright's legal analysis.
An even larger national audience was introduced to our efforts when syndicated talk giant Rush Limbaugh discussed it on Feb. 12. "Now this next story, this is shocking," Limbaugh told his listeners. "Even for unions, and even for Michigan. ... Now a union can take over your home-based business, thanks to government, and there's nothing you can do about it." Limbaugh also featured the story in his video "Morning Update."
Other syndicated talk
show hosts, including Phil Valentine and Mike McConnell, shared the story with
their listeners. Author and nationally syndicated columnist Marybeth Hicks on
March 3 cited Wright and the MCLF case, describing Child Care Providers
Together Michigan as a
"fake union that takes money from honest business owners."
The Mackinac Center's Hoekstra was also reporting on the case, producing investigative videos that revealed: inconsistencies in how day care owners and their employees were treated in the union scheme; the fact that officials from the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council, created for the union to organize against, had not shown up when asked to by a legislative oversight committee; and how day care providers were designated as government employees even though every agency involved denied being their employer.
Michigan Capitol Confidential reporter Tom Gantert, working with Hoekstra, wrote about how the MHBCCC continued to operate despite having its funding eliminated by the Legislature. Legislators from both sides of the aisle and in both chambers told Gantert and Hoekstra they were angry that the DHS continued to fund an agency they thought they had eliminated.
As is often the case, the media coverage and resulting public outrage generated activity in Lansing. House appropriators from both parties asked DHS officials to explain how and why they were funding an agency that the Legislature eliminated from the fiscal 2010 budget. Legislators asked union officials tough questions during committee hearings. And at least five separate bills were introduced to prevent future stealth unionization efforts.
On March 24, Wright applied for leave to appeal the case to the Michigan Supreme Court. Regardless of that decision, the unobserved plight of 40,000 Michigan business owners is now getting the attention it deserves.