Union claimed First Amendment rights in court; ballot promoters now claim it's to protect workers, patients
The union and its supporters behind the scheme to collect dues money from so-called home health care workers said Thursday that they had collected enough signatures to force a vote in November that could lock the dues scheme in the state constitution.
The group collecting signatures said it plans to turn in about 550,000 signatures to the Secretary of State, more than the roughly 322,000 it needs to qualify to get the issue on the ballot.
If the Secretary of State verifies enough signatures and the issue were to pass, it would permanently lock what is known as the home health care "dues skim" into the state constitution. To date, the Service Employees International Union has collected more than $30 million from home health care workers in Michigan, most of whom are taking care of family or friends and were unaware they were even unionized.
A Michigan Capital Confidential reporter was prevented from attending the announcement at the press conference. However, reporters who were allowed in said no one from the SEIU was present. Instead, the announcement was made by people from the Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQC3) and social safety net organizations.
"This ballot measure is nothing more than a money grab by a powerful political union from some of our neediest citizens," Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation said in a release.
It appears the marketing campaign to try to convince voters of the need to keep the scheme alive will avoid shedding any light on the unionization issue and instead focus on the home health care worker registry, which was reportedly established to help conduct criminal background checks on prospective workers. In seven years, only 933 names have been collected for the registry.
The unionization scheme, by contrast, has netted 61,000 people who now have money taken out of their Medicaid checks and handed over to the union.
"Instead of calling this 'Keep Home Care Safe Choice,' a more accurate description would be 'Keep Home Care A Union Requirement,' " said Charles Owens, Michigan State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business. "This is nothing but leaders of a union trying to hide behind the disabled and the elderly to try to force people into their union and keep skimming taxpayer dollars for union dues."
In May, Attorney General Bill Schuette ordered dues to stop being taken from the home caregivers' checks. The SEIU then had attorneys from San Francisco come to Michigan and convinced a federal judge to keep the dues flow going.
At that hearing the union lawyers said little or nothing about defending the safety of home help providers.
"The defendants (the State) aren't going to suffer, [if the dues flow continues]," SEIU attorney Scott Kronland told the judge. "The union, a First Amendment advocacy organization, will suffer irreparable damage."
Kronland then went on to argue that the union would be denied use of the dues money (about $3 million) during the upcoming election.
The union and its supporters have not made a First Amendment argument since, instead repeatedly claiming this is to protect patients and workers.
"The SEIU has openly admitted to the court that its real agenda is politics," Wright said. "That should serve as a wake-up call. The money isn't even being used to collectively bargain with employers, so the people who were shanghaied into this so-called union are being forced to fund the SEIU's political machine. Since these people were not and are not public employees, every penny taken from them to support union politics is a disgrace."
The scheme originated during the administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm when the SEIU was allowed to pencil in the MQC3 as a dummy employer for unionization purposes. A majority of those unionized under the scheme are not professional home health care workers, but are instead people who take care of homebound relatives or friends.
Prior to Schuette's ruling, the legislature tried to stop the "dues skim" by first defunding MQC3, which later was kept alive with significant funding from the SEIU, and then by passing legislation to outlaw the "skim." Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill in April, but the "skim" continues.
"The people of Michigan have elected conservative lawmakers and leaders," Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardvile, R-Monroe, said Thursday after hearing about the union announcing it had collected enough signatures to place the issue on the ballot.
"Those lawmakers have taken action on this. I think those backing this ballot proposal will discover that the people of Michigan are going to come to the same conclusion that the legislature did about this issue."
Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said this proposal has similarities with other union efforts taking place.
"It's another example of union bosses trying to tell the voters one thing when the reality is something totally different," Adler said.