Melissa and Kevin Haynes were born with hypertonic cerebral palsy, a severe disability that impaired their cognitive development, leaving them functioning as infants. For more than 30 years, their devoted parents, Robert and Patricia, have cared for them in their home in Macomb Township, Mich. The two disabled adults received Medicaid checks each month, money that went toward their care. But in 2006, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) began collecting 2.75 percent from each of these checks, claiming that Robert and Patricia were employees — not only of their own children but also of the Michigan state government.
Michigan’s legislature voted in 2012 to put an end to this so-called dues-skimming practice, which the SEIU used to collect more than $34 million from the state’s disabled and elderly residents. The new law took effect in 2013 after a legal challenge had caused a year’s delay. Around the same time, right-to-work legislation ended compulsory union membership.
The result: In the last year, union membership in SEIU’s Healthcare Michigan has plummeted by an astounding 80 percent.
“Most of the time, these ‘caregivers’ and ‘providers’ were family members,” says Patrick Wright, the director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which represented the Haynes family. “The providers didn’t want this. The union did. And it took money away from needy people.”
The SEIU’s “organization” of home-healthcare workers was possible only because of some dubious policymaking tactics and a vote-by-mail membership drive.
In 2005, Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm used an obscure provision in Michigan law to bypass the legislature and create a dummy employer, the Michigan Quality Community Care Council, for all home-healthcare workers. From there, the SEIU sent out letters asking home-health-care workers to vote on unionization.
Around 80 percent of those who were sent letters never replied; many reportedly thought it was junk mail. But among the 20 percent who did, the majority supported organization. With only 6,949 favorable votes — out of more than 40,000 prospective members — the SEIU gleefully announced that every home-healthcare worker in the state of Michigan was now a member.
With the help of the state Department of Community Health, SEIU Healthcare Michigan then laid claim to around $6 million in Medicaid money a year for dues, under the assumption that anyone receiving this funding would be employing a home-healthcare worker.
Meanwhile, SEIU Healthcare Michigan claimed to be the fastest-growing union in the state between 2006 and 2013, when the forced unionization of home-healthcare workers remained in place.
But since the legislature’s 2012 reform took effect last year, SEIU Healthcare Michigan has lost 44,347 of its members, according to a new filing with the U.S. Department of Labor. It retained only 10,918 people, or one-fifth of its members, almost all of whom work at private medical facilities rather than in homes.
These extreme numbers reveal how little so-called home-healthcare workers — who were often just family members of the elderly or disabled — wanted or needed union representation. But the SEIU cynically saw a money-making opportunity in some of Michigan’s most vulnerable residents, and it shamelessly exploited them until lawmakers finally intervened. This dirty strategy may have made the SEIU millions in the short term, but it won’t do much to convince Americans that unions are worth keeping around for the benefit of the public.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.