The Service Employees International Union Healthcare Michigan (SEIU Healthcare Michigan) represents approximately 11,000 employees of Michigan hospitals and healthcare facilities. The union was formed in 2008 as a merger of Michigan-based SEIU local unions during a period of local union consolidation by controversial former Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern, who preferred the formation of state- and industry-wide “mega-locals” over which he had close control to the existing structure of local unions.
SEIU Healthcare Michigan is one of four SEIU locals comprising the SEIU Michigan State Council, with the other three being SEIU Local 1, SEIU Local 517M, and Michigan Corrections Organization Local 526M. SEIU Healthcare Michigan is affiliated nationally and internationally with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of America’s largest and most politically involved labor unions.
SEIU Healthcare Michigan senior officials have been implicated in multiple alleged financial scandals. The first president of the union, Rickman Jackson, was relieved of his office shortly after the formation of Healthcare Michigan when he was implicated in the scandals surrounding Tyrone Freeman, another Stern ally in charge of a California-based SEIU local who would later go to prison for financial offenses. On February 14, 2017, SEIU international president Mary Kay Henry asserted the possibility that “financial malpractice” had occurred at SEIU Healthcare Michigan, and placed the affiliate under emergency trusteeship, pending an investigation. The president and secretary-treasurer of SEIU Healthcare Michigan were also removed from their posts by Henry.
Formation and Freeman Scandal
SEIU Healthcare Michigan was organized in 2008 as part of then-SEIU international president Andy Stern’s efforts to reorganize the SEIU local unions into so-called “mega-locals” on regional and industry-wide bases. Stern installed Rickman Jackson as president of the new mega-local, but Jackson’s tenure would be short-lived.
In October 2008, Jackson was removed from his local union office and the SEIU international executive board after he was implicated in the scandals surrounding Tyrone Freeman, a California SEIU local president and fellow Stern ally who would later go to prison for financial misconduct. Jackson had served as Freeman’s chief of staff at a Los Angeles-area SEIU local union. Jackson was ordered to repay $33,500 in payments made by a corporation associated with Freeman’s local and demoted to an employee position at SEIU headquarters. As of 2017, Jackson was a campaign organizing director at SEIU headquarters paid over $140,000 in annual salary and expenses.
Before the formal organization of SEIU Healthcare Michigan, SEIU officials including Rickman Jackson strategized a plan to artificially increase SEIU membership in the state. SEIU sought to grow its dues paying membership by exploiting the federal government’s Home Help Program, which provides Medicaid payments to elderly and disabled persons, allowing them to be cared for in their homes or in the homes of a relative or friend, rather than institutions.
In order to “organize” the caregivers paid under the Home Help Program, SEIU Healthcare Michigan needed the caregivers to be assigned to a public “employer.” To this end the Michigan Department of Community Health, under a director appointed by then-Governor (and SEIU ally) Jennifer Granholm (D), partnered with the Tri-County Aging Consortium to create the Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQCCC). The Granholm administration recognized MQCCC as the “employer” of the home caregivers, providing SEIU a government employer to target for a unionization drive.
Fewer than 20 percent of the home healthcare providers being targeted for membership by SEIU Healthcare Michigan participated in the election that led to their forced unionization.
SEIU Healthcare Michigan reported dues-paying membership growing as high as 55,265 at the end of 2012, with four of every five members at that time being home healthcare workers caring for disabled Medicaid patients. Almost two-thirds of the additional 44,000-plus members were the family and friends of the disabled people for whom they cared. SEIU Healthcare Michigan received an estimated total of more than $34 million in dues from these Medicaid checks while the policy was in place from 2006-2013.
In 2012, Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed into law a bill allowing the home healthcare workers to resign from the union. Nearly all of the more than 44,000 people affected by forced unionization exercised this option and left;  SEIU Healthcare Michigan’s membership rolls declined by 80 percent, roughly falling back to levels seen before the dues skim began. At the peak of the dues skim in 2012, SEIU Healthcare Michigan reported annual dues receipts of $11,307,314. As of 2015, following the steep membership decline, the union was reporting annual dues receipts of $5,446,451.
After the legislature repealed the dues skim, Michigan SEIU locals solicited the signatures needed to place a proposed amendment to the Michigan Constitution requiring mandatory unionization of home healthcare workers, restoring the dues skim and making it impossible for lawmakers to get rid of it. The measure was titled Proposal 4 for the November 6, 2012, general election ballot.
Proposal 4 was defeated by a majority of over 550,000 votes, along with another union-backed proposal that would have enacted a constitutional prohibition against the passage of a right-to-work law. The defeat of the two labor union proposals is credited with creating the momentum for the successful effort by Michigan legislators to enact a right-to-work law in December 2012. The ensuing protests at the Michigan Capitol against the right-to-work effort resulted in eight demonstrators facing felony charges, with seven of them having connections to SEIU Healthcare Michigan.
In September 2013, the Michigan Secretary of State’s office launched an investigation into whether the SEIU had illegally funded Proposal 4 using finances from two non-profit entities. The case was settled on March 14, 2014, with the SEIU agreeing to pay a $199,000 settlement – the second largest campaign finance fine in state history.
On February 14, 2017, the top two employees of SEIU Healthcare Michigan – union president Marge Robinson and secretary treasurer Shalaya Bryant – were removed from their posts by SEIU international president Mary Kay Henry following allegations of financial misdeeds reported by a local whistleblower to the international union. According to a statement from SEIU international, “After someone with knowledge of the local reported potential financial malpractice at Healthcare Michigan, representatives of the International Union conducted a review of the local union’s books and records and found information indicating abuse of the local union’s loan and paid time off/earned vacation policy.”
As recently as 2015, Robinson’s salary was $198,058 and Bryant’s was $102,475, according to SEIU Healthcare Michigan tax returns. Henry placed Healthcare Michigan under emergency trusteeship, naming SEIU officials Tom Balanoff, Inga Skippings, and Ed Burke as trustees to “assume responsibility for the affairs of the local.”
As of August 2018, little public information on the investigation and trusteeship was available. As of August 20, 2018, SEIU Healthcare Michigan’s website listed no independent leadership.