Metro DetroitOctober 24, 2012
Proposal 4 polarizes foes, friends of unions
By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer
DETROIT — Robert Haynes spent 25 years with the Detroit Police Department before retiring.
During that time, he was a proud member of the city’s police union.
With that, he says that his family’s attempt to retrieve six months’ worth of union dues pulled from their Medicaid stipend is not an anti-labor stance.
“It’s the fact that we weren’t given a choice,” said the Macomb Township man who, with his wife, takes care of their two disabled, adult children.
In September, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a legal complaint with Michigan’s Employee Relations Commission on the Haynes family’s behalf, asking the commission to force the healthcare branch of the Michigan Service Employees International Union to return at least six months of dues pulled from the checks of families taking care of disabled loved ones.
“We’re trying to stop the dues now,” said Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst from the foundation. “And we’re trying to get some of the money back.”
But he said the process would continue if voters approve Proposal 4 in November, which enshrines in the state constitution the collective bargaining rights of home-healthcare providers.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is 50-year-old Scott Heinzman who, at 20, suffered a spinal injury during a swimming accident. He’s been confined to a wheelchair since but is living independently.
Heinzman, who is on the board of directors for the Michigan Quality Community Care Council, said the guaranteed unionization of home-healthcare providers means higher quality care for people like him.
“Proposal 4 will allow seniors and persons with disabilities and our veterans that are coming back with disabilities the choice to direct their own care while remaining healthy and independent in their own homes instead of forcing them into a more expensive nursing home option,” Heinzman said.
If approved, Proposal 4 would amend the state’s constitution to provide limited collective bargaining among caretakers. Additionally, it would establish the Michigan Quality Home Care Council, which would operate a registry of trained, background-checked healthcare providers for the disabled.
The MQCCC, which would become MQHCC if the proposal passes, has existed since 2004. Heinzman said it created a registry of pre-screened caretakers.
“Partisan politics have brought us almost to a halt on operating the registry and the other activities the quality community care council does,” Heinzman said. The proposal would reinstate the council and has garnered the support of law enforcement officials across the state, who say it is not a partisan issue but a safety issue.
Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said the proposal creates an opportunity for the state to be proactive in fighting crimes against people with disabilities.
“(With the passage of the proposal) we have an opportunity to get in front of this crime, the entire state of Michigan has the opportunity to get in front of this crime and stop it before it happens,” Smith said at a recent press conference endorsing Proposal 4.
But the Haynes family and MCLF believe it would only pad SEIU’s coffers.
Robert Haynes and his wife, Pat Haynes, have two children — Kevin, 31, and Melissa, 34, suffering from cerebral palsy.
They’ve taken care of their two wheelchair-bound children throughout their lives and receive Medicaid checks from the state to do so.
Beginning in October 2006, they’ve had 2.5 percent in union dues taken out of each check they receive per child, or about $30 a month, Robert Haynes said.
He said it doesn’t sound like much money, but to some families, it is.
“We’re fortunate enough that we’ve worked our whole lives,” Robert Haynes said. “It hurts, but it’s not devastating to us. Other families may need the money much more.”
The unionization of Michigan’s home-healthcare providers began in 2005 after those within the bargaining unit — both professional and family members — voted to be unionized under SEIU, explained Ruthanne Okun, the director of the Bureau of Employment Relations.
“It was basically a consent-election ballot sent out to all the people in the bargaining unit,” Okun said.
Robert Haynes said he does not remember a ballot being sent to his home. He and his wife were unaware that they had become part of the union until the first amount of money disappeared from their checks.
In 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature passed a law bringing an end to the process and defunding MQCCC, but SEIU will continue to collect the dues until February, when its current contract expires.
The Haynes family is among 44,000 families the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation claims are owed money from SEIU.
Altogether, the foundation claims SEIU has pulled $32 million in dues from different families’ Medicaid check since 2006.
Wright said the foundation is seeking the last six months of dues, about $3 million, because that is all the statute of limitations will allow them.
“Most of these people are taking care of loved ones,” Wright said. “They’re really not government employees. So a public sector union doesn’t really make sense for them, given how the program works.”
SEIU argues that the families like the Haynes family are public-sector workers.
“A home help provider, paid through Medicaid and registered and regulated by a state-created agency, is within this broad umbrella of ‘public service,’” said John Canzano, a spokesman from SEIU healthcare, in a statement.
But Robert Haynes disagrees.
“What can they do for us?” Robert Haynes said of the union. “They don’t represent us. We’re simply parents taking care of our kids.”