By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
Child care providers in Vermont will remain independent for another year as the American Federation of Teachers has chosen not to appeal the Labor Relations Board’s certification of a December vote against unionization.
On Dec. 9, home child care businesses voted 418-398 against unionization. The election was a defeat for Vermont Early Educators United, AFT (VEEU-AFT), which aimed to become the representative for the state’s home child care businesses.
Following the election, VEEU-AFT moved to overturn the vote by filing an objection against the conduct of the election. The VLRB denied the union’s request and certified the election results on Dec. 31.
While VEEU-AFT had the option to appeal to the state Supreme Court, leaders declined. Union organizers may seek a new vote after one year.
The election’s certification means 1,323 child care providers who have an agreement with the Department of Children and Families to accept children from subsidized low-income families will not be required to pay union dues or agency fees.
Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, called the development a victory for Vermont’s child care providers.
“The teachers union there tried to challenge the result of the vote but ultimately didn’t succeed. So the child care providers remain independent, which we think is a good thing for them,” he said.
Semmens, whose group supports voluntary unionization only, said the push to unionize child care businesses isn’t appropriate since providers are business owners and not state employees.
“They’re really small business owners more than a worker or employee in any traditional sense. (They’re) taking care of a few children in their own homes,” he said.
The outcome could be temporary since Vermont passed a law in 2014 allowing home child care unions to be formed.
“The problem with these laws is, as long as that authorization is there, the union can just keep coming back and coming back until they get the result they want,” Semmens said.
“It forces people who would like to be spending time running their business to instead be on guard for potential unionization votes. At least for now they are free of the union because the majority voted against it.”
The move to unionize the home child care industry is not unique to Vermont. While states like Vermont and Minnesota allow unionization, states like California and Michigan have gone the other direction.
In 2011, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill backed by the Service Employees International Union that would have unionized about 40,000 child care providers. Brown cited the state’s budget challenges as the reason for his veto. Michigan, which originally had unionization of child care businesses under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, later repealed it.
Amy Shollenberger, spokesperson for Vermont Early Educators United, said the union is planning its next move.
“AFT-Vermont is continuing to talk to providers and work with leaders to decide what they want to do moving forward. Right now, they’re working on advocating for an increase in the subsidy rates that go to the families to make sure they have access to the child care they need,” she said.
“They have to wait a year before they can file for another election, so as that time gets closer they’ll assess whether they want to do that again or not. But it will be up to the providers.”
Shollenberger said another election is likely because providers need the union’s bargaining power.
“I’ve heard providers say they want an equal seat at the table when talking about issues that affect them. They want to make sure that the families they serve are treated well in the state. They want their expertise to be part of the policy decisions on how subsidy rates are set and how families are treated in terms of eligibility, and also decisions around regulations and the rates that providers are paid. (They want) professional development opportunities as well.”
Shollenberger said a vote in favor of unionization would not mean every provider would have to join the union and pay dues. However, providers who opted not to join the union might be subject to paying agency fees. The matter would be up for bargaining.
“If there was an agreement about agency fees, then that would be part of the contract. But it’s not automatic,” she said.
A 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision could also play a role in future attempts to unionize.
In Harris v. Quinn, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled home health care workers in Illinois could not be forced to join a union since they were not state employees. Semmens said the ruling would apply to child care businesses as well.
“The Supreme Court ruled that these types (of businesses) aren’t at all state employees. But states have tried to claim they are so they can be unionized and be required to pay dues,” he said.
He said providers who opted not to join a union would still be under union representation.
“What the Supreme Court said is mandatory dues or fees are a violation of the First Amendment. So if the union had won in Vermont, they could not have forced the people who did not want to be in a union to pay,” Semmens said. “However, they’re still forced to have this state-designated representative that they don’t want. We think that’s a problem, too.”
For Semmens, the issue is ultimately about voluntary consent.
“We think if people want to have anyone represent them, that’s fine. … If a group of child care providers in Vermont wants to get together and have someone speak for them, that’s their right. But people who don’t want that should not be forced under that type of representation,” he said.
Contact Bruce Parker at [email protected]