Judge blocks law to stop health care union dues

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A judge blocked a new Michigan law Wednesday that's aimed at ending union dues paid by home health care workers who are not traditional state employees.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds was a defeat for Republican lawmakers and GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, who have been trying to unwind unusual labor deals arranged during the administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a pro-union Democrat who left office in 2011.

Edmunds said the April law as it applies to SEIU Healthcare Michigan is illegal because it interferes with a contract that doesn't expire until February.

"What's the hurry?" said the judge, who ruled from the bench and promised to issue a written order later.

SEIU Healthcare represents 42,000 home health care aides, who are hired by a person who needs help. Some are family members of the sick who assist with bathing, meals, medication and other tasks. The aides are paid by the state but don't get benefits such as vacation, pension or sick days like a typical state worker.

The Department of Community Health, under the Granholm administration, struck a deal with a three-county agency that serves the elderly. That led to a creation of another group to coordinate services and come up with a registry of home-care providers. After state labor regulators said the workers qualified for a union, more than 80 percent of 8,000 ballots were in favor of SEIU Healthcare in 2005.

The union said members are making at least 33 percent more than before it stepped in. Rates vary by county but are typically about $8 per hour.

Critics, especially conservatives, complain that the Granholm administration was simply helping her allies in organized labor at a time when union membership was slipping. A similar arrangement involving thousands of at-home day-care workers who got state subsidies and paid union dues ended in 2011 without a change in law.

SEIU Healthcare dues, totaling $400,000 to $500,000 per month, are deducted from public pay that goes to at-home workers. In a court filing, the union said it would be "ruinous" to the organization if it lost the dues.

"It's not just about dues. It gives people a voice," union lawyer John Canzano said Wednesday.

Published: Fri, Jun 22, 2012