By Kathy Hoekstra, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Michigan home day care owner Sherry Loar had a rude awakening with her state check. “The next time I received my co-pay check … they took out union dues!” (See video of Sherry and other day care owners here)
But she and other workers say they have received none of the benefits promised when union and state officials did the deal.
Loar is referring to the checks she regularly receives from the State of Michigan’s Department of Human Services on behalf of low-income parents who participate in a subsidy program. It turns out as of January, 2009, Sherry and some 40,000 home day care business owners in Michigan now belong to a public sector union called “Child Care Providers Together Michigan” (CCPTM). According to an announcement about the formation of this union, the CCPTM, formed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the United Auto Workers (UAW) is “an historic public service organizing drive.”
While being touted as “historic”, it’s hardly original. A 2007 report and power point presentation by the National Women’s Law Center describes how AFSCME and the Service Employees International Union began a nationwide effort to organize home day care providers, and struck a deal so as to not step on each other’s toes:
“In the summer of 2006, SEIU and AFSCME announced they had reached agreement on a plan under which one union or the other will take the lead in organizing FCC and FFN providers in sixteen states, and in one state, each union would take the lead in a different part of the state.”
The report explains that many of these unions siphon their dues from government subsidy payments to these day care owners. So as long as child care subsidies remain funded, there is a constant pool of money from which to draw these union dues. In Michigan, this meant $3.7 million in union dues last year, which ostensibly is to help day care owners get higher pay, health benefits and additional training. CCPTM Director Herb Sanders said in a January 12th news release, “Together, the child care providers of Michigan and their organization, work to encourage the quality child care options working parents and the businesses which employ them depend on.” But home day care owner Michelle Berry says she has seen none of these promises fulfilled so far, “We don’t have monthly meetings. We don’t get newsletters. There’s no communication. There’s just-we have a deduction taken from a check and where that goes I have no clue.”
The home day care unions in New Jersey, Ohio, Kansas, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin were formed by executive order. Legislation in Maine and New Mexico allowed the formation of day care unions. A combination of both enabled the formation of unions in Washington, Oregon and Illinois. Michigan was unique in that it did neither. Instead, the Great Lakes State formed an “interlocal agreement” to create an employer with whom to collectively bargain. The fact that it is unclear if these 40,000 day care owners work for the state was the focus of a lawsuit against Michigan’s DHS against Michigan’s DHS by the non-profit Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.
“It’s telling that in several states that have gone down this road, state and federal subsidies are the source of the union dues. In Michigan, the scheme is essentially throwing a cash lifeline to unions like the UAW, which are hemorrhaging members.”
Mackinac Center Labor Policy Director Paul Kersey says union membership has been in steady decline over the last quarter century, “In 1984 unions represented 21.6 percent of the workforce. Today, with the workforce as a whole expanding by more than a third over that same period, the unionized portion of the workforce has declined to 13.6 percent.”
The future of such maneuvers by labor unions to create new bodies of government employees is murky, at least in Michigan. Lawmakers have introduced legislation to ensure that anyone who receives a government subsidy check is not considered a government employee, and therefore cannot be made members of a government employees’ union. A legislative committee also eliminated funding to the Michigan Home-Based Child Care Council, which is necessary in order for the union to have a so-called “employer.” The fact that the Council remains in operation has legislators stepping up scrutiny of the entire operation, according to Michigan Representative Dave Agema (R-Grandville), who serves on the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on the Department of Human Services.
“I’m looking forward to another hearing when we can find out how they’re avoiding all this (the de-funding of the MHBCCC) and how they’re continuing to be funded and continuing to do these things which I don’t think taxpayer dollars were intended to be used for, ” Agema said.
AFSCME, the Michigan Home-Based Child Care Council, the Michigan Department of Human Services nor Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm replied to requests for comment.
In addition to national media, the unionization of home day care owners in Michigan has gotten the attention of commentators such as Michelle Malkin and John Stossel because of the broader ramifications. As Loar puts it, “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 … Where does it end?”
To see John Stossel’s coverage of this click here