Mich. Right-to-Work Law Results in Mass Exodus of Home Caretakers from Union


They've probably stopped clapping.
Credit: SEIU International / photo on flickr

What can we extrapolate about the state of unionized labor in America when 80 percent of one group's members dropped out in a single year once presented the opportunity to do so?

That's what happened in Michigan. That hard-fought right-to-work law gave home healthcare workers the chance to choose whether Service Employees International Union (SEIU) would actually represent them. Home healthcare workers, who are often family members of the patients they serve and sometimes not even actually paid, were forced by the state beginning in 2005 to accept SEIU as their bargaining representative and pay them dues, which were deducted from state Medicaid checks for the people the workers were serving.

Now that Michigan workers have been granted the right to refuse union representation and decline to pay union does, the home care workers are showing SEIU Healthcare Michigan the door. According to federal reports examined by the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 44,000 home care workers have dropped their membership from the union, leaving just under 11,000 members.

Fox News interviewed a couple who had been forced into the union while caring for their own children and had little good to say about their membership. The husband is a retired Detroit police officer. How bad do you have to be to lose them?

[Patricia] Haynes said that every month, $30 was deducted from their children's Medicare payments, and, while it did not break their bank, they objected on principle.

"They couldn't get me a raise, they couldn't get me more vacation time and they certainly did nothing to improve my children's care," she said. "I'd hate to say it, but in my opinion, they were stealing."

Haynes also says that they are also hoping to help others who had to pay dues.

"We are not anti-union. I just don't understand why we were forced to join because I have two disabled kids," she said. "That we were told that we had to join a union just because we chose to keep our kids at home to care for them."

The Mackinac Center calculates that SEIU has skimmed more than $34 million from the Medicaid payments across the state and will lose more than $4 million in annual dues and fees from the plunge in membership. The Mackinac Center is suing to try to get some of those dues the union has already taken back.

Michigan isn't the only state that has forced caretakers into accepting union representation, and similar requirements in Illinois have led to a Supreme Court case. The court heard arguments for and against forced caretaker unionization in Harris v. Quinn in January. I wrote a summary of the case here, and SCOTUSblog attended and analyzed the arguments presented to the court here. We're still waiting on the decision.

UPDATE: After posting this, Joseph G. Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, contacted me to clarify that the passage of the right-to-work legislation was not actually what ended the practice of forcing home care workers into SEIU representation. A lawsuit from Mackinac was followed by some complex legislative action and decisions by Gov. Snyder that ultimately ended the practice in a timeline that happens to coincide with Michigan's right-to-work laws.