Union member: 'I was born in the Mideast ... I've never seen an election that was messed up like this'
Election Day is approaching for SEIU Healthcare Michigan, the union that has taken more than $34 million from the Medicaid checks of Michigan's home-based caregivers.
But even as the SEIU "dues-skim" nears an end, a faction of union leaders wants more from the home-based caregivers. They want their votes.
The date of a union election is at issue. Current SEIU Healthcare Michigan President Marge Faville is being challenged by Jonnie Jolliffi for the union's highest office. The election is supposed to take place between 30 to 60 days after Jan. 29. That means the first possible date for an election would be March 1, the day after roughly 59,000 home-based care givers are freed from the union. The existing contract expires Feb. 28.
However, Faville wants ballots sent out to the caregivers. She apparently is banking on name recognition from the few home-based caregivers who support the union and hoping they will vote for her. Jollifi's camp, however, is arguing against that idea.
"They're not even going to be in the union," said Tyrone Thurman, a Detroit Medical Center (DMC) employee and union steward, of the home-based caregivers who will no longer be members beginning in March. "Most of those people never wanted to be in the union, many of them didn't even realize they were in it. It's likely few of them will vote, but the few that do could make a difference in the election result.
"I know how politics work," Thurman said. "But this is just a mess. In the past we've always voted at (a) voting site. Now we're going to do it by mail. I don't know how there's going to be any accountability."
The forced unionization of the home-based caregivers in 2005 was Michigan's first mail unionization election.
Those opposed to Faville claim that she controls the address list of the home-based caregivers, and that her name will be more familiar to the home-based caregivers who do vote.
Hasan Zahdeh, a cardiovascular interventional technologist at the Mercy Health Partners Hackley Campus in Muskegon, is no longer in SEIU Healthcare Michigan. Last year, the employees at the facility gave SEIU Healthcare Michigan the boot and are now in the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
Zahdeh lost his job after speaking out against SEIU Healthcare Michigan as the election over switching unions approached. Now he has his job back, but says he still has friends and colleagues who are in SEIU Healthcare Michigan and that he's been keeping track of what's going on in the union.
"I was born in the Mideast, I've traveled there quite a bit. But I've never seen an election that was messed up like this," he said. "It's the sort of thing you'd expect Assad to do in Syria. You know, where the votes come back and he wins with 90 percent."
Thurman said Faville has instituted a bumping process within the union to control who gets laid off.
"I never heard of a union starting a bumping process," Thurman said. "That's something a company negotiates with a union. But the president we have now is doing it."
Zaddah predicts that those who are challenging Faville will face layoffs if they lose the election.
"If she (Faville) wins, I think they'll be gone," Zahdeh said.
Zac Altefogt, spokesman for the union did not respond to a request for comment.