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Union renews push to organize child care providers

By   /   February 25, 2013  /   No Comments

UNIONIZE THIS: The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees want to organize child care workers in Minnesota.

UNIONIZE THIS: The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees want to organize child care workers in Minnesota.

 

By Tom Steward | Watchdog.org Minnesota Bureau

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Thousands of small business owners who provide home-based licensed child care for Minnesota families are nervously looking over their shoulders again as big labor renews a controversial unionization drive in newly introduced legislation at the State Capitol.

The Child Care Collective Bargaining Act  being unveiled Monday by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 with state Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, and state Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, authorizes a “statewide unit for all family child care providers”.

The proposed union is high on AFSCME’s legislative agenda, which states that “family child care providers deserve to have a unified voice and should be included in the decisions affecting their businesses.”  Proponents say the union would improve care, stabilize costs and enhance providers’ professional standing.

“We want to improve the quality of care by making sure providers have access to critical training like first aid and CPR, child nutrition and safe sleep procedures,” said Lisa Thompson, union president of Child Care Providers Together.  “We know that parents can’t pay more and providers can’t work for less.  The state can help fix that problem by helping home-based providers stay in business.  That will give working parents more choices for lower-cost, quality child care.”

The move sets the stage for the next chapter in a contentious clash with many of the state’s 11,000 independently owned and operated licensed providers, who would have union dues automatically deducted if they care for children who receive state subsidies.

“We will use any means possible to defend our rights to remain independent,”  said Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester child care provider who opposes unionization. “The union does not have support of licensed family child care providers, which was evident the last time they tried this.  That has not changed. Providers have already been calling their legislators and asking the authors to withdraw this bill.”

The bill follows a failed attempt by Gov. Mark Dayton, a member of the Democratic Farm Labor Party, to force a union vote for licensed child care providers in a 2011 executive order.  In April 2012, Ramsey County Judge Dale Lindman ruled that . Dayton’s directive was an “unconstitutional usurpation of the Legislature’s constitutional right to make or amend laws” in a major victory for child care providers who oppose unionization.

The legislation caps a seven-year unionization drive in Minnesota that appears to go further than Dayton’s attempt in key respects.  Under the proposal, any licensed or unlicensed provider who’s received a state subsidy in the past year would be eligible to vote on the collective bargaining unit.  About 4,300 licensed providers were eligible to vote in the union election called for by Dayton before it was blocked by the courts.  Some opponents say that including thousands of unlicensed providers, who often give short-term care and receive minor subsidies, could tip the scales in a union election.

The bill’s language also appears to:

  • Include unlicensed providers in the bargaining unit, greatly increasing the members charged dues and fees.
  • Expose all licensed providers to paying dues, regardless of whether they take subsidized clients.
  • Establish a collective bargaining unit without a vote via “card check” if a majority of those receiving subsidy payments in the past year sign a union authorization card.

Under the bill,  Minnesota would become the public employer of record for family child care providers, which are overwhelmingly female-owned and operated independent businesses.  Opponents say it will drive up rates for families in a state that already ranks among the highest in child care costs.  It also may limit the number of options for subsidized children.

“Licensed providers are also determining whether they’re even going to accept families on assistance because if it means someday they may have to pay union dues.  So these families on assistance may find fewer and fewer options out there,” Parrish said.

Seven states have active child care provider unions — Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington.  Nine states have repealed a child care provider union or no longer enforce a prior executive order — Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill establishing a union in California.

Contact Tom Steward at tomasteward@yahoo.com.

 

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Tom Steward covers government waste, spending and policy issues in his home state of Minnesota. Also a documentary filmmaker and in-depth broadcast journalist, Tom's work has appeared on NPR, Animal Planet, WCCO-TV, WGBH-TV, PBS, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, KSTP-TV, CBC, among other outlets. Highlights include the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Peabody Award, the first footage in the wild of the endangered Sumatran tiger and rhino and countless individuals who shared their stories, big and small. Steward served as a communications strategist in the U.S. Senate before returning to reporting on issues and people often overlooked by other media.