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    The evolution of how home health care workers in Michigan have been classified as a unit of the labor force has been a fascinating observation within the last ten to twelve years. Throughout the course of this time frame, competing interests have been working to either unionize home healthcare workers or prevent their forced unionization. At this point in time, these workers are no longer required to join a union. However, this juncture was not arrived at without lawsuits, partisan debates within the state government, and non-government organizations, particularly unions, vying for their desired outcome.

     

    . In 2004, it was desired by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to unionize all home health care workers. This would include individuals who are caring for family members that cannot care for themselves. It was reasoned that because these providers of care receive Medicaid subsidies, they must be public employees. By this logic, they could be required to be members of a union. To go about this, Governor Granholm established the Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQCCC), which was then designated to be the employer of the nearly 60,000 home health aides in Michigan. This came about solely through channels of government, while the actual aides went uninformed of their new employer. After this move legitimating that these aides were now public employees, SEIU moved in to have them all unionized. A ballot was distributed to home health care aides by the Michigan Bureau of Employment Relations to vote on whether to unionize or not. Though the majority did vote for unionization, less than 20% of the ballots were returned, and many health care providers claimed that they did not even receive the ballot.

     

    Even with the questionable response to the unionization measure, the SEIU began to collect dues from the new employees of MQCCC. They did this by having the Department of Community Health “skim” a percentage of their Medicaid payments. Since the DCH oversees the disbursement of Medicaid funding to home health care workers, it was through them that SEIU was collecting their dues. This practice went on for nearly 6 years, when in the 2011-2012 state budget the Republican controlled legislature chose to defund MQCCC. This did not hinder the collection of dues by the SEIU however, as they continued to keep MQCCC operational and did not have the DCH stop skimming the percentage of the Medicaid payments. It was then that Governor Snyder and the Republican legislature sought to end this, as they deemed it, unfair practice.

     

    In April of 2012, Senate Bill 1018 was signed by Governor Snyder into law. This statute stated that home health care providers were not public employees, and were therefore not obligated to be members of the union. Nevertheless, the Department of Community Health continued to withhold dues for SEIU from the Medicaid payments, claiming that ending the practice would be violating a contract they agreed upon. As this was continuing, Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office stepped in; arguing that the continuation of skimming the percentage of Medicaid funds violated the law and the Department of Community Health must stop this action immediately. Since the law stated that home health care workers were never government employees subject to union organizing, they were not entitled to pay dues to the union. At this, the DCH permanently suspended the withholding of Medicaid funds.

     

    The SEIU did not take this new shift in policy lying down. Because they had amassed nearly $30 million in the six years of collecting dues, they were ardent on keeping this practice afloat. The union launched a petition to override the legislation that prevented them from their dues payments and incorporate into the Michigan constitution that home health care providers are government employees and therefore subject to unionization. This proposition did make it on to the November 2012 ballot as Proposal 4, but was defeated. The public answer to the question of whether home health care aides should be unionized seemed to correlate with the numbers of individuals who chose to continue to be members of SEIU after the related legislation was passed. According to reports filed with the Department of Labor, there was nearly an 80% drop in the number of members of SEIU Healthcare Michigan between 2012 and 2013. This response served as a testament to the negative feelings home health care aides had towards what SEIU had done to them.

     

    As more information was being revealed regarding the mode by which SEIU was collecting their dues, home health care aides wished to seek legal redress to get money back that they felt was rightfully theirs. Two individuals in particular, Patricia Haynes and Steven Glossop, sued Service Employees International Union Healthcare Michigan and the Michigan Quality Community Care Council over their lost Medicaid funding that was diverted as “dues”. In response to this, SEIU paid both parties the amount withheld, and by doing this was free from paying back the over $30 million to all formerly unionized aides. This move was reinforced by the Michigan Court of Appeals in September of 2014, when they dismissed another lawsuit filed against SEIU by home-based caregivers because it was moot. At this stage, the payment to the two aides who first filed suit against SEIU appears to have granted them immunity from having to reimburse any other home health care provider who had portions of their Medicaid payments forcibly withheld from them.

     

    References http://archive.freep.com/article/20120526/NEWS06/205260440/Union-dues-can-no-longer-be-withheld-from-Michigan-home-health-care-workers http://dailycaller.com/2014/04/30/after-right-to-work-80-of-mi-healthcare-workers-desert-union/ http://www.mackinac.org/17530 http://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/17298 http://www.natlawreview.com/article/michigan-court-appeals-dismisses-home-care-workers-lawsuit-against-seiu-moot-after-s http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304677904579533701943234122

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    The Michigan Policy Network is a student-led public education and research program to report and organize news and information about the political process surrounding Michigan state policy issues. It is run out of the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, with participation by students from the College of Social Science, the College of Communication, and James Madison College. 

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