By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau
MINNEAPOLIS — When the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently put Minnesota’s child care provider union election on hold, it appeared thousands of small business owners might get a breather from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ eight-year organizing campaign.
The federal appeals court ordered the election time-out while the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether to take another National Right to Work Foundation case involving allegations of “forced-unionism” of Illinois personal care attendants.
Instead of going into slow-motion, however, AFSCME appears to have hit fast forward, ready to strike this week when SCOTUS surprised many Minnesota observers by adding the Illinois case (Harris v. Quinn) to its 2013-14 docket at the last minute.
“An Illinois case about fare-share (sic) fees has absolutely no bearing on whether Minnesota child-care providers have the right to vote on a union,” said Jennifer Munt, spokesman for AFSCME Council 5. “This legal challenge is another attempt by right-wing extremists to deny people their rights. Justice won’t be served until child-care providers can vote on whether they want a union.”
“The unions are terrified of the Supreme Court ruling because they know it could stop them from being able to siphon tens of millions of dollars a year from these Medicaid and child assistance programs that are intended to help the most vulnerable citizens of our country,” said Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester provider and lead plaintiff in the Minnesota case. “It’s a money train for them. And they’re terrified it’s going to be cut off.”
The success of child care union opponents in preventing the Minnesota election — at least temporarily — has led to invitations for Parrish to help like-minded groups from Rhode Island to Kansas to Iowa.
AFSCME Council 5 filed an appeal Oct. 1 on behalf of three pro-union child care providers pressing the appeals court to reconsider its injunction preventing Minnesota from holding an election. Labor leaders then took the campaign in a new direction, equating the vote for a child care union to the movement that led to women gaining the right to cast a ballot a century ago.
“Our great grandmothers were denied the right to vote until 1920 — suffrage didn’t come easy for them,” said Sharon O’Boyle, a St. Paul Park provider in a news release. “Like strong women before us, child-care providers won the right to vote for a union. We won’t let right-wing extremists take that away from us. With iron will and hope in our hearts, we unite to lift up our profession.”
That sentiment left Parrish miffed.
“It’s infuriating that they would compare giving women the right to vote to forcing women to vote on whether they’re going to keep their constitutional freedoms,” said Parrish.
It’s not clear whether the federal appeals court will keep the injunction in place pending a SCOTUS ruling in the Illinois case. The overlap already extends to the National Right to Work Foundation’s legal team, with the same attorney litigating both the Minnesota and Illinois cases.
“If everything goes well, if they rule 100 percent in our favor, I’d say the child care unionization laws and the PCA (personal care attendant) unionization laws are unconstitutional everywhere. If Illinois’ is unconstitutional, so are all the rest,” said Bill Messenger, NRTW’s lead attorney. “…But I never try to predict, not just to keep myself out of trouble but also I’ve learned I never really know what they’re going to do.”
Contact Tom Steward at [email protected]