Michigan becoming the nation’s 24th right to work state in 2012 appeared to pose a challenge to major industrial private sector unions like United Auto Workers. But it’s also posed a major challenge to public sector unions in the Wolverine State — or rather, a scheme to reclassify as “public employees” a group of people who aren’t even directly employed by the state.
The group in question is home health care workers who receive state assistance. How were they reclassified as state “employees”? The Washington Examiner‘s Sean Higgins explains:
In 2005, then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, created the Michigan Quality Community Care Council — commonly referred to as “MQC3” — ostensibly for the purpose of keeping tracking track of program’s 45,000 participants. However the entity also made it legally possible for the state to claim the participants were actually employees and therefore eligible for collective bargaining.
The following year, Granholm signed a collective bargaining contract with SEIU Healthcare Michigan, after a mail-in ballot in which only 20 percent of the program participants voted. It is not clear how many in the program even knew an election was going on or what the ballot represented.
In short, a union-friendly administration created a state body to pose as the “employer” of home care workers receiving state assistance, and then conducted a stealth organizing campaign by mail. (A similar effort in Connecticut led CEI to partner with the Connecticut-based Yankee Institute to conduct our own mail campaign informing Connecticut home care workers that if they wanted to avoid unionization, they had to return the cards stating so.)
Unsurprisingly, many home care workers in Michigan were unhappy about having their assistance payments suddenly reduced because of dues payments to which they never consented. So when they could finally exit, they did. As a result, SEIU Healthcare Michigan’s membership dropped from 55,000 in 2012 to under 11,000 the next year.
Michigan isn’t the only state where government employee unions have tried to expand the definition of “public employee” to include service providers who receive state assistance. In fact, it’s part of a wider effort, as my co-authors and I note in a 2009 Cato Institute study on public sector unions:
[S]ome unions are trying to expand the definition of “public” by trying to organize government contractors. Washington state provides a good example of this. There, the trend began in 2001, when voters approved a ballot measure, Initiative 775, to allow independent long-term health care providers to unionize and bargain collectively over hours, compensation, and working conditions. Then in 2007, Washington state authorized collective bargaining for adult-home-care providers who receive Medicaid and other state aid. Stretching the definition of “public employee” to any home-care provider who may contract with the state can give a public employee union a foothold in the private sector. Further, under such an arrangement,union fees can be deducted from state compensation checks before the recipients ever see them, so the care providers never miss money they never see.
Fortunately, however, many have noticed, including Pamela Harris, an Illinois resident taking care of her developmentally disabled son, whose legal challenge to a similar scheme in Illinois has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Last January, the Court heard oral arguments in Harris v. Quinn. A decision is expected in June.