By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Now you see it, now you don’t — or do you?
For months, a $50,000 contract for the union-affiliated group Child Care Providers Together to provide informational seminars for families and other child care providers was axed from the proposed Ramsey County 2014-15 budget.
But it didn’t stay cut.
Behind the scenes, a group of licensed family child care providers quietly made the case to county officials that the seminars amounted to a back door way for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to network with providers in the midst of a controversial unionization drive.
Getting Organized: Unionizing Home-Based Child Care Providers, a 2010 report by the National Women’s Law Center, described the program this way: “Providers acting as mentors receive a stipend from CCPT to help develop an information network for families. CCPT is working to improve the relationship and communications between providers and the licensing agency in Ramsey County as well.”
Opponents pointed out CCPT liaisons listed for the training also serve as AFSCME child care provider union organizers. They also claim CCPT sessions often duplicate seminars available elsewhere. Handouts and fliers display CCPT’s logo for training meetings ranging from how to identify health conditions such as asthma, record keeping and creating “calming spaces” for children.
“My intent is to draw a line about public tax money going to a specific union that’s in the process of organizing and putting their logo on Ramsey County material to distribute and gain access to providers at the same time,” said Cyndi Cunningham, an opponent of a provider union who operates her own St. Paul child care business.
Despite receiving about $100,000 in the two previous county budgets, CCPT appeared to be out of luck. Budget documents analyzing the impact of defunding CCPT stated “elimination of the contract will mean that some child care providers [75-125] will need to use alternative sources of the publicly available information.”
Then out of nowhere in mid-August, the county board suddenly got second thoughts, reinstating the $50,000 line item in the budget.
“CCPT is a contract for services, so the county board, when we got to that part of the budget we talked about that and we determined as a board that we were going to reinstate that one,” said Victoria Reinhardt, a Ramsey County commissioner. “It’s not an uncommon thing for us to do by any means.”
CCPT and AFSCME didn’t respond to inquiries from Watchdog Minnesota. Officials say the contract doesn’t imply county endorsement of AFSCME’s drive to unionize child care providers.
“We have drafted the contract to list specifically what activities we expect to be supported with the dollars provided,” said Dave Haley, executive assistant in the Ramsey County Community Human Services Department in an email response. “It is not the County Board’s or the Department’s intention to support or oppose a unionization effort. Part of our data collection and evaluation effort is to make sure we are satisfied that the funds are continuing to be used for the purposes outlined in the contract.”
Cunningham acknowledges she cannot document any examples of union organizing activity by CCPT during training sessions, but insists it’s all about appearances. She plans to state her case at the last public hearing on the budget Monday.
“They are the union organizers for the state of Minnesota, they are the ones in the news,” Cunningham said. “They are the same people that are being paid by Ramsey County to provide services in Ramsey County.”
At least one county commissioner says that’s not good enough to dissuade her from voting for the appropriation in December.
“If there is any instance that they truly know of that they [CCPT] have breached that line I want to know about it immediately,” Reinhardt said. “If there is, I will be the first to say OK, that’s done because that’s not what this is about. It’s about our children and it’s about training and I have never had anybody call me back with a specific instance.”
Contact Tom Steward at [email protected]