Practically speaking, unionizations of in-home service providers as public employees can yield large sums of money, even though the individual care providers are typically not highly paid. The collection of union dues and agency fees by the SEIU in the unionization of in-home caregivers in Michigan has provided an estimated $32 million in income to the union since 2005. This money was withheld from the Medicaid payments sent to care recipients for the payment of in-home caregivers.
Given unions’ expenditures generally, it is likely that a significant portion of this money was not spent on collective bargaining. In part, this is because the incentives for public-sector collective bargaining are different from those for private-sector collective bargaining. In the private sector, although the two sides in theory have a common goal of keeping the business profitable, the two sides both bargain in the distinct best interests of their own side. The same does not necessarily hold true in public-sector bargaining. In the public sector, government-employee unions have a bargaining advantage that the private sector employees do not: The government-employee unions can work to elect their employers — i.e., the elected officials who sit on the other side of bargaining table (or have authority over those who do).
There is evidence that this dynamic is at work in the unionization of in-home workers as public employees. In 2008, following the 2006 unionization of home-based day care providers in Michigan, then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm told an international AFSCME convention, “In Michigan, because of the partnership between AFSCME and the governor’s office, this means that 45,000 new AFSCME members — quality child care providers — will be on the ground providing care to children.”[*]
A similar relationship may have occurred in the case
of the Illinois unionization of in-home caregivers (discussed above). Then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the executive order enabling the unionization in 2003. In 2006, the SEIU was reportedly the biggest contributor to Gov. Blagojevich’s re-election campaign.
The SEIU has asserted that political expenditures are part of the union’s current use of the dues collected from in-home caregivers in Michigan. In the SEIU’s federal lawsuit against the state for discontinuing the dues collection, the SEIU’s attorney cited political concerns to argue that the union would suffer irreparable harm if the collection of money from caregivers’ paychecks did not continue:
Any delay in receiving those funds will be ruinous for the Union, which will have to lay off a significant portion of its staff and will be unable to represent the providers and to protect their interests, whether in collective bargaining, in upcoming legislative matters, during the impending general election, or otherwise. ...
... The Union is an advocacy organization, and the inability of the Union to advocate vigorously on behalf of its members now could no more be remedied after the fact than if a political candidate’s campaign treasury were placed into escrow and released to the candidate after the election is over. (Emphasis in original.)