By Jack Spencer
March 29, 2012
A bill written to end the “home health care dues skim” is headed to the governor.
On Wednesday, the Michigan House passed Senate Bill 1018 on a 63-46 straight party-line vote, with Republicans voting “yes,” and Democrats voting “no.” It now goes to Gov. Rick Snyder.
Last week, the legislation was passed by the Senate on a 25-13 vote. Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, was the only GOP lawmaker in either chamber to vote against the bill.
“Closing down the dues skim is absolutely the right thing to do,” Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, said. “As follow up, we should work on changes to the state’s rules on unionization. We need to make sure those impacted are aware of what is taking place and understand both the potential benefits and negative effects.”
Proos is drafting legislation to require that unionization elections be posted in a manner that would let the news media be aware that they are occurring. With better public attention, it won’t be as easy for stealth elections to occur.
On the House floor Wednesday, the debate on Senate Bill 1018 was brief. Rep. Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) made the only comments.
“This bill does absolutely nothing to create jobs,” Greimel said. “All it does is deprive these workers of their legal rights in a process overseen by the state. Once again, this body presumes to be judge and jury and executioner.”
Greimel also made a new claim in the debate over the “home health care skim.” He said that special interests, including nursing homes, were involved in pressing for passage of Senate Bill 1018.
In 2005, the SEIU targeted dollars that taxpayers provide to help so-called home health care workers. Through the Medicaid Home Help program, these were workers who cared for homebound patients who would otherwise need to be in nursing homes.
The SEIU scheme, involving a dummy employer and a stealth election, was used to sign up the 43,729 so-called home health care workers into the SEIU. The majority of the 43,729 were relatives or friends of those given care.
Once these people were unionized, the SEIU began collecting dues from their checks. The continuation of this dues flow is called the “home health care dues skim.” The number of alleged home health care workers has now grown to 60,190. The SEIU has netted more than $29 million in dues from the scheme so far.
Greimel’s suggestion that nursing homes had some special interest in the legislation seems to line up with an apparent SEIU push to misrepresent what the bill would do.
Late last week, the union (or those with connections to it) called home health care providers and patients and lied to them about what the bill would do, said Rep. Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt. Opsommer said the callers in his district told those giving or getting care at home that the pending legislation to stop the “skim” at the state level could somehow end the federal Home Help program.
On Tuesday, Opsommer issued a press release about the phone calls. He titled the news release: “Opsommer announces ‘Bald Face Lie of the Year’ winner.”
“[This legislation] does one thing and one thing only, and that is to help stop the union dues from being deducted from the roughly 60,000 people receiving this Medicaid money by clarifying that they’re not public employees,” Opsommer said. “It’s amazing that interest groups who are in favor of this pick-pocket approach to public policy are trying to get the very people who are having money taken away from them to call in to fight the legislation under the false pretense that they would make the Home Help program go away. Under this legislation, these people would not only still get their money, they’ll end up getting more than they’re getting now.”
Opsommer was the sponsor of House Bill 4003, the original measure drafted to stop the “skim.” It was passed by the House in June and voted out of a Senate committee in December, but stalled on the Senate floor after that.
Two weeks ago, Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, introduced Senate Bill 1018, which was duplicate of House Bill 4003. As a duplicate measure, Senate Bill 1018 garnered 21 Senate Republicans as co-sponsors. Only 20 votes are needed to pass a bill in the Senate.
Assuming Snyder signs the bill, the dues could stop flowing almost immediately. However, it might take a few months. Under one possible scenario, ultimately stopping the dues flow could involve the courts.
It appears that SEIU will go to any length to try to keep the “skim” going. It has started a petition drive to put the “skim” structure into the state constitution.
Zac Altefogt, spokesman for SEIU Heathcare Michigan, did not return a phone call for comment.