BALLOT BOX: Proposal 4 is a scheme to funnel dues and fees from caregivers

By Derk A. Wilcox

One of the biggest misconceptions about Proposal 4 is that it creates new programs that will assist the elderly and the disabled with independent living. It is on this basis that the proposed amendment to the Michigan Constitution is being sold to voters. An analysis of the proposal, however, reveals that this claim is untrue and so we have to look deeper to see the true motivation behind the promotion of Proposal 4.

The real reason Proposal 4 was put on the ballot was to protect a scheme to funnel dues and fees from the pay of home-based caregivers to the Service Employees International Union. The amendment seeks to enshrine in the constitution a dues collection scheme that has already diverted $32 million away from the caregivers, 75 percent of whom are family members caring for loved ones. Under the Home Help Program, which began in 1981, in-home caregivers had always been considered employees of the care recipients--up until 2005, that is. The care recipient chose the employee, directed the care, and had the ability to replace the caregiver if desired.

In 2005, under the administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a local government entity called the Michigan Quality Community Care Council was created and colluded with the SEIU to force tens of thousands of residents into a government union. These two entities claimed that the caregivers were public employees because all or part of their pay comes from public funds. (Given this line of reasoning, doctors who accept Medicaid or Medicare payments, or grocers who accept food stamps, could also be forced into such a union.) Michigan law, as well as federal law, had always excluded in-home caregivers from the definition of who is a public employee for the reason that the true employer was the one to whom the care was given, not the state. Nevertheless, the scheme moved forward with little to no public scrutiny.

When the full extent of what had happened, and the amount of dues and fees that had been skimmed became widely known, the public was outraged and the Legislature acted to put an end to the dues skim and prevent anything like it from happening in the future. Proposal 4 is an attempt to validate the dues skim and enshrine in the constitution the definition of a public employee that has already been rejected by the courts and the Legislature. The SEIU has already admitted that it is using the skimmed dues "during the upcoming election" to advocate for its position. Given the millions of dollars involved, the SEIU has a strong incentive to try and keep the skim going.

Proposal 4 would only consider home-based caregivers to be public employees for the limited purpose of being represented by the SEIU or a subsequent union. It would not extend to caregivers the status of public employees in any other regard, including pensions, benefits or civil service protections. Proposal 4 would not grant the union the power to negotiate higher wages or improved work conditions, either. The actual language of the proposed amendment that does not appear on the ballot specifically states that the Legislature, through the appropriations process, determines the caregivers' compensation, and since the work occurs in the care recipients' homes, it cannot affect the working conditions either.

The programs promised by Proposal 4, including a registry and background checks, have already been implemented and require no constitutional amendment to continue. The only facet of Proposal 4 that actually requires altering the constitution is the continuation of the dues skim that the Legislature has tried to stop.

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Derk A. Wilcox is senior attorney at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland. You can access his policy brief on Proposal 4 at www.mackinac.org/17637.

Published: Fri, Nov 2, 2012

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