The Detroit Free Press held an on-line Web Chat on Proposal 4, Michigan's ballot initiative on collective bargaining rights for Home Help workers and continuation of an entity called the Michigan Quality Home Care Council to replace the Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQC3) as the employer of Home Help workers for the purposes of collective bargaining with the union, SEIU Healthcare of Michigan. See an analysis of Prop 4 here and here .
The moderator for the chat was Jewel Gopwani from the Detroit Free Press. She was joined by Dohn Hoyle, Executive Director of the ARC Michigan, and Derk Wilcox from the Mackinac Center. They debated the issues involved in Prop 4 and answered questions from the public. The full transcript for the Chat is here . There were some details left out of the discussion and some statements that need further clarification.
Home Help workers are employed by seniors and people with disabilities and are paid with Medicaid funds to help their "employers" stay in their own homes. They provide help with personal care and household chores. Providers are often family members and friends of the senior or person with a disability and this was mentioned several times. The fact that they make up 75% of home help providers was left out. 80% of providers have only one client.
Parents, other family members, and friends usually view their participation in the Medicaid-funded Home Help Program as a way of subsidizing the care their loved-ones need at home, rather than as as a career choice or a way to make a living. They are often surprised that they are part of a unionized workforce. It is understandable that people who are trying to make a living taking care of people in their own homes may welcome unionization depending on the benefits they can get through collective bargaining. When Home Help workers voted on whether to have the SEIU represent them in 2005, fewer than 20% participated in the election. Much of the opposition to Prop 4 comes from family members who object to paying union dues (or fees if they opt out of the union) for what they see as little benefit to themselves or their disabled family member.
Dohn Hoyle from the ARC Michigan sees the unionization issue as a distraction from the real purpose of Prop 4, which he says is to write into the constitution The Michigan Quality Home Care Council to replace the MQC3 and maintain a registry of workers who have passed background checks and have access to training. Although both Hoyle and Wilcox agreed that the registry, background checks, and training are important, the MQC3 registry only lists 900 plus providers and could continue without inclusion in the Michigan Constitution. Background checks are required only for providers who want to place their names on the registry and are only a first step in assuring safety and quality care.
Looking at the events that led up to the unionization of Home Help workers, it seems obvious that designation by the state of the MQC3 as a co-employer of Home Help providers and the representative of seniors and people with disabilities in collective bargaining was crucial to forming a public employees union. Without the MQC3, there would not have been an "employer" for the union to bargain with. All in all, it is a peculiar arrangement. Home Help workers at least had the opportunity to vote for representation from the union while seniors and people with disabilities did not have a say in their representation by the MQC3.
Athough Dohn Hoyle asserted several times that without state funding the registry is not being maintained, he finally conceded that it is being maintained, just not with sufficient state funding to the MQC3. The union, SEIU Healthcare, contributed $12,000 to the MQC3 before the MQC3 signed the last extension of the union contract, according to Mr. Wilcox. This appears to be a conflict of interest between the union and the MQC3 who are supposed to bargain with each other, the SEIU on behalf of workers and the MQC3 on behalf of employers.
One argument for Prop 4 is that it will allow people to live at home rather than have to go to expensive nursing homes. The Home Help Program has been available for more than 25 years and will continue whether or not Prop 4 passes. Home Help services in no way replicate the level of care that is available in nursing homes. There are other Medicaid funded services through Medicaid waivers that provide for much more care than the Home Help Program. Home Help services are invaluable for many seniors and people with disabilities, but they are only part of an array of services needed by people with significant disabilities.
I had a question about how a family member or other Home Help provider who does not want to belong to the union, can opt out. This is what I heard from another parent in Southeast Michigan who looked into this:
For questions about union representation and opting out, contact SEIU Healthcare at 1-866-734-8466 and ask for Steven Cousins. He was very helpful to this parent and explained what the dues are for and can answer other questions that you may have.
Then, send a letter to:
c/o Sandra Mcmillan
2604 4th Street
Detroit, MI 48201
"I was told by SEIU Healthcare Michigan that I have the choice to opt out of the union as a Home Help Provider. I would like to opt out, and not have any future dues deducted from my paychecks. I understand that I will still have to pay a small monthly agency fee to remain under the Union contract, but will not have to pay union dues anymore."
In addition, provide all your contact information - name, address, phone number, and especially your Provider Number. Sign and date the letter.