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With shrinking private-sector membership, some labor unions
are coming up with creative ways to boost membership in the public sector. In
Michigan, one such arrangement places private home-based day care providers in
a government employee union. But this novel approach raises a question.
"I do not consider myself to be an employee of anyone," said
day care owner Sherry Loar.
Paulette Silverson asked: "Why am I a union member? How can
I be a union member? I'm not employed by anyone."
Paulette Silverson and Sherry Loar are talking about their
2008 discovery that they were among 40,000 others in a purported union of people
who provide private-sector day care for children.
The so-called union, Child Care Providers Together Michigan,
was formed by AFSCME and the UAW. The "union" gets its dues from Michigan Department
of Human Services subsidy payments made to some providers on behalf of qualifying
low-income parents. The department is
currently being sued by the Michigan-based Mackinac Center Legal Foundation for
withholding these funds. But this bizarre day care union arrangement returns us
to Paulette and Sherry's simple and more fundamental question: If they are
union members, who is their employer?
How about an entity called the "Michigan Home Based Child
Care Council"? The DHS created this government agency through a supposed interlocal
agreement with Mott Community College. The union's collective bargaining
agreement is with the council. And the union's own lawyer has testified that
that the council is the employer.
But home day care business owner Paulette Silverson asked
the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council in an e-mail if the council is her
"And they wrote back and said, 'No, you are not an employee,'"
The council's director and board president declined our
request for an interview.
But through a Freedom of Information request we asked the
council for a list of its employees. The council gave us a list of just two
staff members. This also indicates the
40,000 home day care providers are not the council's employees.
So again, who is the employer?
Since the DHS treats these private business owners and
contractors as government employees, and takes "dues" out of human services
subsidy checks, is the DHS the employer?
Not according to the agency's website.
For instance, some day care providers eligible for the DHS
subsidy must agree that "... the parent (or) substitute parent is my employer (not
Others, such as a grandparent caring for a grandchild, must
agree that they are "considered to be self-employed and not an employee of
But if the day care providers aren't employees of the DHS,
are they employees of some other state agency?
Not according to a union lawyer who testified at a
legislative hearing last October.
According to Nick Ciaramitaro, "They are not employees of
Or a person manning the front desk at AFSCME headquarters in
Detroit, who said: "I know they're not state employees. But who they work for, I'm
So is anyone else the employer?
Perhaps Mott Community College, the other party to the
interlocal agreement that created the council. But in January, a spokesperson told
us Mott does not employ home day care providers, union or otherwise.
So Mott Community College is not the employer.
The Department of Human Services is not the employer.
Another state agency is not the employer.
The Michigan Home Based Child Care Council is not the
Where does that leave home day care providers?
When asked whether "They ended up in a government employee
union no clear-cut employer," Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center
Legal Foundation replied: "Exactly. With no clear cut employer at all, because
the people who are paying them the money are the parents."
The providers themselves agree. Loar said, "I actually work
for my parents and my children."
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.
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