Last week, while Wisconsin's 14 renegade Democratic state senators continued to wash their socks and underwear in a hotel sink in a "principled" standoff to avoid voting on Gov. Scott Walker's public union reform agenda, and as similar legislative efforts unfolded in Ohio and Indiana, there was a quiet but seismic victory for working people in my home state of Michigan.
Michigan's Department of Human Services announced that it is ceasing the illegal practice of classifying privately owned, home-based day care providers as "state employees."
You might read that sentence a time or two and think, "Huh? How can privately owned businesses be considered employees of the state?"
Good question. These folks don't collect state paychecks, they don't get state pensions or state health care benefits, they don't get state holidays or educational benefits — they don't even get memos from any supervisors. Nothing about their work life is even remotely associated with state employment.
Here's how some greedy union executives decided otherwise: Some of the families served by roughly 40,000 of Michigan's 70,000 privately owned and operated, home-based, child care providers receive state funds earmarked for child care because they are enrolled in public assistance or job training programs.
Seeing a clever way to help themselves to some of that public money, Michigan's United Auto Workers (UAW) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), who had been heavy supporters of Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, hatched a scheme with the Democrat's administration in which home-based child care workers would be required to a join a fake union so that 1.15 percent of the child care benefits paid to their clients could be confiscated for "union dues."
The plan worked thusly: The Department of Human Services entered into a partnership with Mott Community College in Flint to form an "agency" called the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council. This agency did nothing. In fact, it wasn't even funded by the Michigan Legislature. But the child care council served as the entity against which a union could "organize."
The UAW and AFSCME conveniently had just the faux "union" in the works, Child Care Providers Together Michigan. In perhaps the shadiest union authorization election ever, they sent notices to 40,000 private business owners who probably tossed these notices into the trash along with the snotty tissues from their private clients' children, since they knew they couldn't possibly be eligible to join a union.
Anyway, why would they want to? They were independent business owners.
With participation from only 6,000 day care providers and affirmative votes from a whopping and unlikely 5,000 of those, the "union" earned the right to divert mandated "dues" from the fees paid to day care owners.
Hence, the state of Michigan and two powerful unions conspired against an unsuspecting and vulnerable group of citizens. And the vig? A whopping $3.7 million in 2009 alone.
A lawsuit filed by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation (www.mackinac.org) on behalf of three day care owners now is unnecessary, since the new director of the Department of Human Services, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan, disbanded the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council and declared that "union dues" for day care owners no longer would be collected. This means thousands of day care owners will be paid hundreds of dollars in fees they are owed each month.
The astonished unions say they're disappointed that the new administration isn't "working with them" as promised. However, Michigan's new governor, Rick Snyder, never promised to steal money from the citizens as a sign of good faith to unions.
This story isn't as sexy as the antics of the small group of sensational state legislators hiding from their responsibilities while playing pinochle and ordering takeout, but that's OK.
Sometimes the good news is under the radar.
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