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Home-based day care owners in Michigan are "being forced to join something that [they] don't need to be a part of."
"I think I've had enough with the state coming in. I meet all of their licensing requirements, I attend their trainings, I file paperwork on time. Everything they've asked for, I've given, and now they want more. Where does it end?" asked Baby Steps Childcare owner Sherry Loar, who has been nurturing children in her Petoskey, Mich., home since 1994.
"I've gone from just a small home business to now I'm an LLC — in baby steps, which is where the name came from," Loar says. "You couldn't have wrote a business plan for how beautiful this has worked out."
Loar's friend and neighbor, Dawn Ives, also runs a day care out of her home, a career move she says is the best thing she ever did. "I love these kids. I love them with all my heart. I never thought I could love anybody else's kids, but they really do grow on you," Ives remarked.
But in December 2008, things changed for both women.
Loar recalls: "I had gotten the mail. I opened a letter that said that the day care had become part of some union, and we would be paying union dues. And I'm going, what? So it came out as a total shock."
According to Ives: "Sherry had called me and she brought it to my attention that we were in a union. And I said, 'What do you mean I'm in a union?' And she said, 'Well, didn't you get that little postcard?' And I said, 'Well yeah, I got it, but I believe I threw it away.' And I thought that was the end of it."
Loar and Ives say they're both long-time union supporters, but this time is different.
"I'm not opposed to unions; everything has a place," Loar states. "But when we enter my door, this is my home."
Ives agrees: "I am not anti-union: I grew up in a union family all of my life. It was great for my dad — it worked wonderful for him — but it doesn't belong here."
Mackinac Center Senior Legal Analyst Patrick Wright says a newly formed organization now claims to serve as a government employee labor union for Loar, Ives and more than 40,000 other home child care providers like them. The organization bases its claim on a 2006 vote of just 5,900 of those 40,000 providers, a vote that Loar and Ives say they never knew about.
Wright, however, questions the steps taken prior to that vote. "It appears fairly clear that the government just created a 'shell corporation,' that they needed to create some sort of employer for these people to be able to organize against," Wright says. "So they grabbed — it appears randomly — grabbed Mott Community College, took it and created this 'interlocal agreement' and created the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council."
The council was created in part by the Michigan Department of Human Services. That department administers government subsidy payments to private child care providers, such as Loar and Ives, who happen to care for a child from a low-income family that qualifies for government child care subsidies. It is through these subsidy checks that union dues are withheld — 1.15 percent of every check.
"The next time I received my co-pay check, they took out union dues!" Loar says. "I don't know, but I can't take money out of an employee's paycheck without their signature. How can the government take money out of a paycheck? I actually work for my parents and my children. I do not work for the state."
"Like, 83 cents on one check that I'm being paid," Ives explains. "Why should I pay 83 cents for something that I'm not going to benefit from, I didn't vote for, and they're not my employers. The parents are my employers."
According to Wright: "Sherry and Dawn have a few people that — some of their customers receive government aid. And the mere fact that they do doesn't make them government employees."
That fact is one reason that Wright and the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation are now defending the rights of Loar and Ives not to have their business income diverted to a union that claims they are government employees.
Wright says: "You can't have two government agencies suddenly conjure up the power to change the law just because they're working together. So you can't have the Department of Human Services and Mott Community College just all of a sudden change the law. What that requires is things that it always requires, which is the legislative branch to enact a law and the governor to sign it. And that did not happen here."
Loar and Ives say they're willing to take the case as far as it needs to go.
"This is America," Ives says. "They're forcing me to do something that I don't want to do."
"If they can do that to me in my home... Somehow if you can do a little of something in America, we tend to do a whole lot more of it," Loar comments. "Where does it end?"
According to Wright: "If the government can unionize somebody like Sherry and Dawn, they can unionize doctors, they can unionize landlords, they can unionize small grocers. All of these people who have clients that receive some sort of government aid. And that should worry us all."
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.