A Michigan branch of the powerful Service Employees International Union saw its membership and revenues plummet after the reversal of a measure that forced caregivers tending to friends or relatives to be members with their dues paid by those they cared for.
More than 44,000 home-based healthcare workers parted ways with SEIU Healthcare Michigan after learning they did not have to join the union or pay dues, according to reports the union filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. Thousands of the employees were allegedly forced into the union under a plan the SEIU successfully lobbied for that classified even unpaid family members caring for their elderly parents as "home health care workers." Dues were then automatically collected from the care recipients' Medicare or Medicaid checks.
“Family members were told they were public employees,” Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, a Michigan-based policy group, told FoxNews.com. "They are not public employees and this was not proper.
“It was an underhanded scheme to get these people in [the union],” he added.
The measure, which counted the home healthcare recipient as an employer and the caregiver as an employee, was adopted during the administration of Demcratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, but abolished by Republicans including current Gov. Rick Snyder, who was elected in 2012. His election coincided with the state's vote to end forced unionization by approving a right-to-work ballot measure. Snyder subsequently signed a bill that ended the SEIU's due collection scheme.
Wright's organization estimates that the SEIU reaped nearly $35 million from Michigan’s elderly and disabled from 2006 to last year. Of some 59,000 residents classified as home-based caregivers, about 80 percent stopped paying when they learned they did not have to.
“What the numbers show is that these people never wanted to be in the union in the first place,” Wright said.
Requests for comment to SEIU Healthcare Michigan were not immediately returned.
Some of those charged under the prior scheme are suing to get their money back.
Retired Detroit police officer Robert Haynes and his wife Patricia say they were forced into the union after they were considered public employees because they cared for two adult children with cerebral palsy in their home.
“Our children’s case worker had come for their usual six-month visit and he had told us that we were now part of the union,” Haynes told FoxNews.com. “I was like, ‘What?’”
But Haynes and her husband weren’t concerned.
“I didn’t think much about it,” she said. “Then my husband heard the news that the law was reversed and we realized they were doing nothing for us.”
Haynes said that every month, $30 was deducted from their children’s Medicare payments, and, while it did not break their bank, they objected on principle.
“They couldn’t get me a raise, they couldn’t get me more vacation time and they certainly did nothing to improve my children’s care,” she said. “I’d hate to say it, but in my opinion, they were stealing.”
Haynes also says that they are also hoping to help others who had to pay dues.
“We are not anti-union. I just don’t understand why we were forced to join because I have two disabled kids,” she said. “That we were told that we had to join a union just because we chose to keep our kids at home to care for them.”
Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych