By ED WHITE
The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 5:53 PM
DETROIT -- The state of Michigan will stop deducting union dues from thousands of people who provide child care at home, an official announced Tuesday, ending an arrangement created under a previous governor that sparked lawsuits over whether mandatory membership violates free speech rights.
Under the policy change, the 16,500 providers would keep millions of dollars in union dues that had gone to United Auto Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The providers, none of whom are on the state payroll, receive government subsidies for watching children from low-income families.
The Department of Human Services announced in a news release that it also is stopping its relationship with the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council, which was affiliated with Mott Community College. Through the council, the unions were allowed to hold an election in 2006. Only 15 percent of the providers cast ballots, but 92 percent were in favor and the unions were certified.
"The council has not delivered on its original goals to enhance and improve the delivery of quality care for children whose parents receive assistance from the department," Human Services chief Maura Corrigan said in a statement. "That's why we will stop all funding and, because these providers are not state employees, will also cease collecting union dues."
The unions have defended their role, saying they've helped child-care workers get training and cut through red tape at the Human Services Department. Representatives with UAW and AFSCME did not immediately respond Tuesday to messages seeking comment.
There is a lawsuit pending in federal court in Grand Rapids challenging the union dues on constitutional grounds. Several day care providers say paying dues violates their free-speech rights. Their attorney, William Messenger, said the case will continue because he's still seeking to recover more than $4 million.
Messenger claims the administration of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, cleared the way for union representation five years ago in exchange for valuable political support from the UAW and AFSCME.
The November election swept a Republican newcomer, Rick Snyder, into the governor's office, and the GOP also controls the Legislature. Granholm could not run for a third term because of term limits.
The director of Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which has been unsuccessfully challenging the union dues in state court, praised Corrigan's announcement as "fantastic news."
"The idea that millions of dollars could be diverted annually from the subsidy checks of low-income families to fatten union coffers was bad enough," director Patrick Wright said. "The fact that the government was a party to this scheme and was willing to call private employers 'public employees' made it all the more egregious."