March 20, 2013 | Commentary on Labor
As union membership has fallen, union organizers have become increasingly aggressive. They have now turned to organizing recipients of government benefits — an unwelcome shock for many needy families.
In Michigan, for example, Medicaid reimburses people who care for their disabled relatives at home. This helps parents look after their disabled children while saving taxpayers from paying for more costly care at state-run facilities. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) decided to organize these at-home health-care providers.
Former governor Jennifer Granholm allowed the SEIU to mail out ballots for an “organizing election.” Over 80 percent of the ballots were never returned — either discarded as junk mail or ignored. Nonetheless, union supporters made up a majority of those few who voted, and the state recognized the SEIU.
Soon parents of disabled children saw their reimbursement checks cut by hundreds of dollars a year. The union provided families with no benefits for these dues. As one frustrated parent complained:
We’re not getting anything from them [SEIU]. We’ve tried to contact them, and they don’t even bother to respond. I don’t even know what they could do to help. Considering the dues money we’re sending them, maybe they should come over and babysit our kids so we could have one night out.
After Governor Rick Snyder’s election in 2010, the Michigan legislature put a stop to the program. By then the SEIU had skimmed more than $34 million in “dues” from these families.
Now unions in Minnesota are trying to organize at-home day-care providers with a similar scheme. The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is lobbying for a bill that would let them create one statewide union of approximately 11,000 licensed and unlicensed day-care providers who qualify for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) subsidy. The subsidy helps lower-income families pay for day care.
Unlicensed providers include self-employed in-home-care providers, those who run short-term programs such as summer camps, and relatives providing what is termed “relative care.” Grandparents who watch their own grandchildren can fall into that last category, but they must obtain recognition as legal non-licensed providers in order to receive CCAP assistance.
The legislation would authorize AFSCME to collectively bargain with the state on behalf of day-care providers and (of course) collect mandatory union dues. Day-care providers would not even get a secret ballot vote on unionizing — AFSCME would merely collect publicly signed cards, making possible this type of fraud:
Shaffer [a Minnesota child-care provider] said in 2011, she was approached by part of a door-knocking campaign for forming a childcare union in Minnesota. Shaffer said she was asked to sign a card to receive more information on the campaign, but she later learned it was actually a union authorization card.
It is hard to see how self-employed in-home day-care providers benefit from union representation, much less representation without a secret-ballot vote. AFSCME, however, would skim millions in dues off of CCAP checks.
These tactics inspired the vice president of Minnesota AFSCME Local 3400 to resign in dismay earlier this month. Kathy Stevens, a lifelong union member and vice president of Minnesota Child Care Providers Together local, told Watchdog.org, “I am not anti-union and I don’t want anybody to think I am, but I am anti what [AFSCME’s] purpose is and their mission is right now. I’m not okay with that.”
“This isn’t the way we want our profession to look,” said Stevens. “We don’t want to use people just to get what we want. This is a respectable profession, and we need to have it maintained as a respectable profession, and I don’t think that’s what’s happened.”
Ms. Stevens has a good point. Unions shouldn’t look to government benefits for children, the sick, and the disabled to fill their coffers.
— James Sherk is senior policy analyst in labor economics in the Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis.
First appeared in National Review Online.