Michigan Child Care Workers May Get their Day in Court against Forced Unionization

Today, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered a lower court to explain its dismissal of a class action lawsuit challenging a forced unionization scheme for child care workers in the state. The suit. This is welcome news, since this suit takes on directly one of Big Labor’s newest efforts to expand its falling membership: expand the definition of the “public” sector.

For years, government employment is the one area in which unionization had grown at a robust pace, even as unions’ private sector numbers fell precipitously. That trend reached a tipping point last January, when the number of union members in government employment surpassed the number of private sector union members for the first time. There is no reason to expect the trend to reverse.

So, as unions continue to struggle at reviving their private sector fortunes, some are now seeking to redefine many private sector workers as government employees. In Michigan, the United Auto Workers (UAW) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) partnered to create a child-care worker union whose main purpose was to collect union dues from the state subsidy checks sent to child care providers who served low-income families. As The Grand Rapids Press explains in an editorial:

In 2006, the UAW and AFSCME partnered to form a union called Child Care Providers Together Michigan. The union represents and draws dues from people who care for children from low-income families. The new union members belong either to the UAW or AFSCME, depending on the part of the state in which they live.

Whatever attempts were made to inform child care providers of the pending unionization must have been feeble at best. Only 15 percent of the state’s 40,000 dues-paying providers took part in the vote-by-mail certification election that formed the union. Fully 92 percent of those voting said yes to the union. But they hardly constitute a valid majority of all the now-dues-paying members. Hopefully, the federal lawsuit will uncover how this election was allowed to occur.

The low-income clients provided a rationale — though not a legitimate one — for the forced unionization. The argument is that because providers take public money in state subsidies for those clients, they are therefore public employees. Union dues are taken directly from the state subsidies, money that should go toward child care. The UAW and AFSCME receive 1.15 percent of the subsidies, amounting to more than $1 million a year.

This also gives organized labor a good reason to support the Obama health care legislation. Expanding the definition of “public” to any public service provider who receives any sort of state support gives unions new opportunities to organize health care workers, as more of them are officially deemed “public” employees.

An Associated Press  story sums up the absurdity of the situation this creates, with one of the plaintiffs as an example:

Peggy Mashke tends to 12 children for 12 hours a day at her home, so she was surprised to get a letter welcoming her to the United Auto Workers union.

“I thought it was a joke,” said Mashke, 50, of northern Michigan’s Ogemaw County. “I work out of my home. I’m not an auto worker. How can I become a member of the UAW? I didn’t get it.”

The current suit was filed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation; the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy has filed a similar suit. This case deserves national attention, as unions in other states are likely to try similar schemes.

For more on public sector unions, see here and here.