By Katie Burke, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 21, 2012
This election cycle, Michigan voters will have a say in how at-home health caregivers organize and whether they have the right to unionize.
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Michigan’s Proposal 4, set to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, recommends establishing the Michigan Quality Home Care Council, an organization that would train in-home care givers, create a registry of verified workers and help patients in need of financial aid in paying for in-home health care. The council would also set conditions for in-home employment and standards along with terms of compensation for such workers, in addition to allowing in-home health care workers to participate in collective bargaining.
The proposal is sponsored by Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care and the Service Employee International Union, the largest health care union in the country.
In an October poll conducted by Fox 2 News, about 47 percent of Michigan voters support Proposal 4, while about 37 percent were opposed and 16 percent were undecided.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said in a September press release that the proposal would cause in-home health care workers to be obligated to join a union, regardless of their personal intent.
“Proposal 4 … would amend our constitution to force Michigan’s 60,000 home health care aides to join a labor union,” Snyder said in the release. “Those workers would be forced to have union dues withheld, whether they want to or not.”
Michael Head, a former state official involved in the development of the council under former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said health care workers would receive better pay under the conditions of the proposal.
“Before (the Quality Care Council) was put into place, (home help) workers were paid essentially less than minimum wage,” Head said. “It is true they have to pay dues or a service fee (to the SEIU), but it’s also true that they get paid better.”
State Rep. Mark Ouimet (R–Scio Twp.) said workers should not be bound to join unions under stipulations of the state constitution, noting that Democrats and Republicans alike have expressed opposition to the proposal.
“I don’t have any problems with the unionization,” Ouimet said. “I just think it’s important that people can do it by choice versus by coercion.”
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said the proposal would return the benefits previously enjoyed by home health workers.
“(The proposal) would essentially put the situation with home health care workers back the way it was a couple years ago before the Legislature passed a law defining home health care workers as not eligible to form a union,” Irwin said.
He said the creation of the training programs and registry would help families make the best possible choice when choosing a home health care provider, adding that the proposal also provides a less expensive option to those in need of intensive care.
“I think the public really benefits because home health care is vastly cheaper than nursing home care and it makes a lot of sense for us to encourage people to utilize that service delivery model,” Irwin said.
LSA senior Nicole Miller, a member of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said she doesn’t believe unionization should be included in the state constitution.
“Most of these workers are family members or good family friends who are caring for relatives and I don’t see the reason why the union would benefit them,” Miller said.
She added that she feels the wording of the ballot proposal is unsatisfactory.
“The language on the actual proposal, it’s not misleading, but it doesn’t say in very clear, explicit terms what the proposal would do,” Miller said.
LSA senior Lauren Coffman, the communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, wrote in an e-mail interview that the proposal is vital to providing the treatment necessary for disabled residents.
“It is important that our most vulnerable citizens receive the care that they deserve and require,” Coffman wrote.
She added that the measure is beneficial to health care workers as well as recipients.
“The measure also allows for the unionization of the care workers, ensuring that they are ensured the resources necessary to serve our citizens while also maintaining a fair standard of living,” Coffman wrote.