Jewish World Review March 3, 2010 / 17 Adar 5770
Didn't even know it, did you? You are now a state employee!
By Marybeth Hicks
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | They operate under names like Granny's Junction. Inside, among cubbies for winter coats, boxes of Legos and kitchen tables surrounded by booster seats, they offer a lifeline to millions of working mothers and fathers.
The nation's home-based child care providers represent millions of single business owners — women, mostly — whose entrepreneurial spirit and operating ingenuity are surpassed only by their willingness to clean the noses and backsides of other people's children.
In Michigan, roughly 40,000 such day care owners were perhaps too busy changing diapers, reading stories and making lunches to notice a random piece of mail in which they were invited to declare themselves unionized state employees.
Obviously, a private business owner cannot be an employee of the government. But the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) couldn't resist the lure of so many potential dues-paying members.
So AFSCME hatched a grand scheme. Suppose you declare that any child care provider whose clients receive state subsidies for day care are considered employees of the state? You'd instantly have 40,000 new state employees to add to the rolls of union membership.
Follow the union's logic: Say you own and operate Granny's Junction Daycare. A few of your clients attend job-retraining programs that qualify them for subsidized child care benefits. Along with the money that is paid directly to you from these clients, you receive a check each month from the state to pay some of their expenses.
This makes you … wait for it … a state employee. "Close enough for government work" never rang so true.
To accomplish this surreptitious unionization effort, Michigan's Department of Human Services (DHS) formed an agency called the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council (MHBCCC). This agency does exactly nothing. In fact, it isn't even funded by the Michigan Legislature. But MHBCCC is an entity against which a union may organize.
Enter AFSCME's new "faux" union, Child Care Workers Together (CCWT). The new union sends election ballots to those 40,000 potential members (formerly known as small-business owners), encouraging them to unionize. About 6,000 ballots are returned. Interestingly, more than 5,000 favor joining the union, while only 475 oppose it. The other 34,000 threw the thing away, assuming they couldn't possibly need a union — or be eligible to join one — since they own and operate private businesses.
But wouldn't you know, those business owners now are paying "union dues," assessed at 1.15 percent of their monthly subsidies. The annual total withheld and diverted directly to CCWT (read: AFSCME): $3.7 million. Dollars.
Meanwhile, the "employer" doesn't provide health care benefits, training, insurance, a cup of coffee, a company picnic or any other conceivable attribute of employment, least of all, a full-time paycheck. And the union doesn't negotiate a contract. It simply lobbies the state to set more preferable subsidy rates.
Suffice to say, the independent child care providers could have hired a lobbyist for a lot less than $3.7 million per year.
Three women are suing the DHS for diverting their child care payments as "union dues," since they say, "the DHS does not have the constitutional authority to reclassify home-based day care providers, who are business owners and independent contractors, as government employees."
Their attorney, Patrick Wright of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation (www.mackinac.org), says the implications of the case are broad. "If unions can declare private business owners, such as child care providers, as public employees, simply because they receive secondary payments in the form of subsidies, who is next?"
And what other ramifications might there be? Suppose Granny's Junction is a Christian day care center, where children learn about Jesus while playing in Granny's sandbox? If she's now a state employee, is she barred from promoting a religious preference, even if her beliefs are a reason her clients chose her for child care services?
Thank you, AFSCME, for opening a door the ACLU can walk through.
There's a reason why unions are on the decline. Most workers don't need one, and they don't want one. Least of all a fake union that takes money from honest business owners.
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JWR contributor Marybeth Hicks, a wife of more than 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. To comment, please click here.
© 2009, Marybeth Hicks