Imagine being the parent of a developmentally disabled adult child who needs your round-the-clock care. Your son or daughter receives a Medicaid payment which can be used to purchase medicine, medical devices or services that enhance his or her well-being. How would you feel if a government employees union began to skim money from this payment claiming that you, the parent, are a now a government employee and are therefore compelled to pay “dues” from this aid?
This is the scenario faced by more than 60,000 Michigan home health care workers — many of them caring for loved ones in their own home — as part of an arrangement concocted by Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration and the Service Employees International Union. But thanks to the relentless efforts of the Mackinac Center’s legal, reporting and communications teams, this practice was exposed and Michigan law now explicitly states that home health care workers are not government employees simply because those they care for receive a government subsidy.
Since it’s hard for a union to represent “employees” when they work for themselves or merely care for relatives, the sordid endeavor began with the need to create a fake public employer. To that end, the Michigan Quality Community Care Council was created through an interlocal agreement between the Michigan Department of Community Health and the Tri-County Commission on the Aging.
The SEIU then applied to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, the state’s labor board, to be named the mandatory collective bargaining agent for the home health providers. MERC aided the union in two ways: 1) it decided to allow an election without questioning whether the providers were government employees, a precondition to an election; and 2) it ran the election as quietly as possible to avoid drawing attention to the dubious government-employee designation. In a low-turnout election, fewer than 7,000 people voted to unionize with 1,000 opposed.
The dues began being skimmed in late 2006. The plot did not receive widespread attention until it was discovered during the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation’s lawsuit over a similar skim from home-based day care workers. The day-care skim ended in March 2011 when Gov. Rick Snyder pulled the Michigan Department of Human Services out of an interlocal agreement that created the fake employer involved in that case, the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council.
The Legislature responded by explicitly defunding the MQCCC in the 2012 budget cycle. When the 2012 fiscal year began it was expected that the
home-health skim would end. When it didn’t,
Rep. Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt, pushed legislation he had introduced clarifying that home health care providers and home-based day care workers are not government employees. The bill passed the House in June 2011, only to languish in the Senate.
Michigan Capitol Confidential correspondent Jack Spencer and Senior Investigative Analyst Anne Schieber produced detailed coverage of those affected by the dues skim, the origins of the scheme and possible motives for the Senate’s intransigence. Their work garnered national coverage, including Fox Business News, The Weekly Standard and Rush Limbaugh. Schieber’s video of Robert and Patricia Haynes, parents of two adult children with severe cerebral palsy, was posted on Breitbart.com and The Blaze.
Spencer’s coverage exposed the fact that Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Kahn had received a $5,000 contribution from the SEIU the day after Opsommer’s bill passed the House. CapCon Freedom of Information Act requests found that Kahn had made a number of attempts to secure supplemental funding for the MQCCC. In an email, Kahn suggested hiding the funding in another budget and lowering the pay of all home health care workers in order to give the “savings” to the MQCCC.
The Center and CapCon also posted a SkimTracker on its home page to tally the SEIU’s take from home health care providers. The number reached $30 million before the Senate finally relented and passed legislation to end the skim in March. Gov. Snyder signed the bill in April. In a press release, he stated, “Those employed by private individuals cannot become public employees simply by receiving government dollars. … I am pleased this bill will return the interpretation of the law to its initial intent.”
Yet, the dues collection continued, apparently over concern about the union’s contract with the never-legal, now-unfunded “public employer.” This seemed ludicrous, since the MQCCC had moved to the basement of its former director, who works only three hours a week so she can receive unemployment insurance and since the SEIU was helping keep its doors open with a $12,000 contribution. Not a bad investment for a multi-million dollar return.
Attorney General Bill Schuette ended any confusion over the matter when he issued an informal opinion letter to Rep. Opsommer indicating that the dues skim must stop immediately. “Private individuals do not transform into public employees simply by participating in taxpayer-funded programs like Medicaid,” Schuette noted in a press release.
Not surprisingly, the SEIU filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law. The union is also gathering signatures for a ballot campaign to enshrine the skim in Michigan’s Constitution.
Nevertheless, two lucrative forced-unionization schemes involving 100,000 private individuals and millions of dollars were brought to the attention of Michigan residents and policymakers by the Center’s multi-pronged approach of analysis, reporting and strategic litigation. You can be sure Center analysts will closely monitor — and perhaps enter — the court proceedings on behalf of Michigan taxpayers and the state’s most vulnerable populations.
(Following passage of the law, the SEIU sought an injunction in federal court. On June 20, a judge granted the injunction, allowing the SEIU to once again begin collecting dues. The case is ongoing.)