Union power grab unravels in Michigan 

Michigan's government will stop collecting union dues from about 16,500 home-based child-care providers, who had been unionized in many cases without their consent. The change comes after a protracted lawsuit on the providers' behalf by the free-market Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, the Detroit News reports.

Beginning in January 2009, about 40,000 child-care providers suddenly found union dues were being deducted from the subsidies the state pays on behalf of low-income families. Subsequently, more than half of them stopped serving such families. Even with this falling enrollment, the union collected about $4 million over 20 months. It might have to return the money, pending another lawsuit.

In order to help ailing labor unions boost their membership totals and dues collections, the administration of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm had colluded with UAW and AFSCME to create a shell company as the "employer" of the state's independent, home-based child care providers. This so-called "employer," the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council, in turn funneled the providers' money to a newly created union, Child Care Providers Together Michigan. The union collected the providers' dues without providing any training, benefits, or collective bargaining.

Last summer, the Examiner's Joel Gehrke drew attention to this collusion. 

“This only benefited the unions and their allies in government,” said Michael Jahr, a spokesman for Mackinac. Michigan's legislature never authorized the arrangement, which Jahr told the Washington Examiner was illegal. 

Jahr said that child-care providers were targeted by the unions because their independence and large numbers make them vulnerable. “It is hard for them to coordinate themselves to fight this effort," he said. He noted that the provider who first came to them asking for help would have had to "mail letters to 70,000 people” whom she didn't know in order to fight the unionization effort. 

The unions claim that in 2006, they mailed ballots to nearly 70,000 child care providers so that they could choose whether to unionize. They say that out of 6,000 responses, 5,500 indicated approval of the new union. “Every day-care provider we talked to said they never saw a ballot,” said Jahr. “Makes you wonder who got ballots.”

During the 20 months that the union held sway, day-care costs for low-income families rose, said Mackinac Director Patrick J. Wright. Thousands of child-care providers opted out of the union by refusing to work with families receiving state funds. This sent the families to higher-priced day cares and diminished the subsidies' effectiveness.

Wright says now that this case is moot, the Michigan legislature must protect independent merchants -- including grocers and landlords -- from being arbitrarily reclassified as state employees simply because they accept food stamps or Section 8 vouchers from low-income Michiganders. Also possibly at stake is $6 million in forced union dues money paid to the Service Employees Intenational Union by in-home health-care contractors.

A related lawsuit by the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation is seeking to force Michigan's government to return the $4 million in union dues.

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