PoliGraph: Childcare Freedom misleads about Michigan union dues

To make their case against unionization of Minnesota’s in-home child care providers, a coalition of groups has produced a new web ad that tells a cautionary tale about a similar situation in Michigan.

“In Michigan, unions have gone so far as to skim millions from Medicaid that would otherwise have gone to help disabled children,” an ad by Childcare Freedom warns.

Childcare Freedom is right that some Medicaid money is going to union dues in Michigan. But its claim that the money would have gone to children is misleading.

The Evidence

Gov. Mark Dayton has ordered about 4,200 in-home child care providers who participate in a state-subsidized program to vote on unionization. It’s still unclear how unionization would affect the roughly 7,000 providers who don’t get to vote.

The vote, which will begin next week, has prompted a lawsuit by a group of providers who oppose the effort. They’re backed by Childcare Freedom, a coalition of conservative groups including Minnesota Family Council, Minnesota Free Market Institute and Minnesota Majority.

Childcare Freedom’s ad features a Mafioso smoking a cigar – the background music would remind you of the soundtrack to The Godfather – and demanding a union vote. The claim in question is voiced-over a picture of a disabled child in a wheelchair; the statement refers to a similar effort in Michigan to unionize roughly 42,000 in-home care providers who take care of the elderly or people over 18 with developmental disabilities.

Members of the Michigan union, which were organized in 2005, consist mostly of people who are taking care of their adult children, elderly parents or other family members, as well as providers who work for themselves, says Susan Steinke, executive director of the Michigan Quality Community Care Council. Created in 2004 by the state, MQCCC effectively serves as the workers’ employer.

Many workers are forgoing regular jobs to take care of family members, relying on Medicaid checks to cover bills instead, she said.

Because the Michigan workers collect Medicaid to cover the cost of care, they are considered employees of the state. That means 2.75 percent is taken out of every check to cover union dues. Since 2007, an average of $5.6 million has been collected annually in union dues, according to the Department of Community Health.

So, Childcare Freedom is correct that SEIU has collected millions from Medicaid checks.

The ad’s underlying implication is that unions are strong-arming workers into unionization in other states, and it’s a reasonable matter of debate among home-care providers in Michigan.

Some say they didn’t know there was a vote. They don’t want to be members because they are taking care of their own family members, and aren’t getting union benefits such as more vacation time. (Members can opt out, but still must pay a fair-share fee.)

Mackinac Center Legal Foundation director Patrick J. Wright, who opposes unionization, says that only a fraction of the home care workers voted, and that the community care council was formed under union pressure; SEIU wanted an employer to organize against, so the state created one, he said. This fiscal year, the Michigan Legislature defunded the council, though the group is still functioning on a limited budget and union dues are still being collected.

On the other side, Steinke points out that the council offers workers training opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable, and that union members are paid more after SEIU’s intervention.

“If you were making $5.15 an hour and now you’re making $8 an hour, you’re still only paying 2.75 percent in dues,” Steinke said. “That’s 22 cents to make $2.85 more.”

The Verdict

Taken as a whole, this ad implies that unions are forcing workers in many sectors into collective bargaining. In Michigan’s case, that’s a matter of debate.

Childcare Freedom is correct that SEIU has collected millions in union dues from Medicaid checks over the last few years.

But to say that it has been “skimmed” implies the money was obtained illegally, which is false. And it’s wrong to say that the union dues would otherwise go to children because the program in question is for adults.

It’s a close call, but PoliGraph rates this claim misleading.


Childcare Freedom, Union Shakedown Childcare Providers, accessed Dec. 1, 2011

WJBK Fox 2, Forced To Join a Union: SEIU Getting Money From Michigan Medicaid Checks, Nov. 15, 2011

Minnesota Public Radio, Conservative-backed group sues over child care union vote, by Tim Pugmire, November 28, 2011

Interview, Patrick Wright, director, Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, Dec. 1, 2011

Interview, Steinke, executive director of the Michigan Quality Community Care Council, Dec. 2, 2011

  • StevefromSacto

    A misleading ad from the people who brought you the union-busting crusade in places like Wisconsin and Ohio?

    I’m shocked! Shocked!

  • Jamie

    As usual, MPR tip-toes on egg shells around conservative spin and lies. To call this ad misleading is ridiculous, and Richert even points out a lot of the reasons why it should be at the very least, GROSSLY misleading and intentionally misrepresenting of the issue.

    And for her to say this: “The ad’s underlying implication is that unions are strong-arming workers into unionization in other states, and it’s a reasonable matter of debate among home-care providers in Michigan…” is also grossly misleading. It is NOT a reasonable matter of debate! It’s a debate based on gross misrepresentations and ugly, untrue characterizations coming from conservatives who hate unions!

    Quit coddling conservatives, MPR!!

  • Lisa Braegelman

    Regardless of your feelings on if this ad is misleading, I know first hand that SIEU mislead childcare providers. I have been a childcare provider in Wright County for seven years. Last spring an SIEU employee knocked on my door and asked me to fill out a postcard that would put me on a mailing list so I could receive more information regarding the process and progress of unionization of childcare providers in Minnesota. Those postcareds were presented to Gov. Dayton as a commitment of support from those who filled them out. Was I mislead – NO, I was lied too.