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Home health care proposal draws support, concern

Associated Press Published: November 3, 2012
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DETROIT (AP) — Michigan voters will have their say on several ballot issues related to collective bargaining, but none comes more specifically tailored to a particular industry than Proposal 4.

The initiative on Tuesday's ballot would amend the state constitution to allow some 42,000 home health workers to unionize, give them limited collective bargaining rights and list them in a statewide registry. The proposal would re-establish the Michigan Quality Home Care Council in the executive branch of state government. The council would be the so-called public employer of home health aides.

Supporters of the Keep Home Care a Safe Choice proposal say it will improve the quality of and access to care for the disabled through training opportunities and providing the registry of qualified providers who have undergone background checks. Still, participants in the Home Help Services Program aren't required to select care providers from the registry and training opportunities required of the providers.

For Karen Farr, any steps toward encouraging or increasing training and background checks are welcome. She's a registered nurse for Gentiva Health Services Inc. in Muskegon and has seen a wide range in the quality of care provided by home health aides, with whom she interacts and observes in the course of her job.

"That's my biggest concern — you have some really good people out there that want to do a good job. ... Then you have those who are just collecting a pay check," said Farr, 40, who has been a nurse since 2001 and working in home care for nearly three years. "All the extras that go along with (the amendment) are necessary to keep our patients and loved ones safe."

Some critics say it would be fine if the amendment stopped there. The proposal's opponents argue the measure's real purpose is to provide for collection of union dues from home health workers after GOP lawmakers outlawed that dues collection earlier this year.

The measure is a bid to counter the law passed earlier this year that spurred a lawsuit by Service Employees International Union Healthcare Michigan, which had been the bargaining unit for home health care aides before the law was enacted. A federal judge sided with the union and protected the contract until it expires in 2013. Organizations such as the Midland-based free-market think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy have argued the home health care workers aren't public employees and often are caring for family members.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has said the proposal as well the four others that change the Michigan Constitution are bad policy.

The independent, nonpartisan Citizens Research Council said the primary question for voters as it relates to Proposal 4 is whether such remedies should be enshrined in the state constitution or through a referendum on the state law, such as the one on the ballot pertaining to state-appointed emergency managers running struggling cities and schools.

The signature union-backed initiative is Proposal 2, which also would amend the constitution to guarantee the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining with public and private employers. Supporters fear Michigan's GOP lawmakers eventually will make a push for right-to-work legislation, which bars unions from collecting mandatory dues from workers, while opponents contend the measure would make union leaders more powerful than elected officials and impose rollbacks of state and local governments' ability to set employment terms and get budgets under control.

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Follow Jeff Karoub on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jeffkaroub


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