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Ex-AFSCME official says union used ‘unethical tactics’ in childcare drive

By   /   March 4, 2013  /   19 Comments

By Tom Steward | Watchdog.org Minnesota Bureau

DEFECTOR: Kathy Stevens is seen at the far right on the first row in this AFSCME group photo.

DEFECTOR: Kathy Stevens is seen at the far right on the first row in this AFSCME group photo.

A key founder and vice-president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local attempting to unionize licensed child-care providers has resigned, demanded her card check back and submitted testimony for a Monday legislative hearing criticizing union organizers of using “unethical tactics” to obtain votes.

Reached by phone, AFSCME Local 3400 President Lisa Thompson declined comment on the criticism leveled by her former top deputy, who’s still featured in a leadership photo on the Facebook page of Minnesota Child Care Providers Together.

The defection of Kathy Stevens, a licensed child care provider in Crow Wing County and life-long union supporter, offers unusual behind-the-scenes insight to the controversial drive to unionize 11,000 licensed child-care providers and small business owners. At stake?  Whether licensed providers, some of whom receive state subsidies for needy children, will have union representation with dues deducted from their Child Care Assistance Program  payments.

“I am not anti-union and I don’t want anybody to think I am, but I am anti what their (AFSCME’s) purpose is and their mission is right now. I’m not ok with that,” said Stevens in an exclusive interview with Watchdog.org.

Stevens said she was surprised to learn that after seven years of organizing as Minnesota Child Care Providers Together, the newly certified AFSCME Local 3400 had just 57 dues paying provider members signed up by the end of 2012, a figure confirmed in a union newsletter.  By comparison, the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association, on whose regional board Stevens also serves, has an estimated 4-5,000 members who pay dues to their county or the state association.

Stevens’ assertion of “unethical tactics” centers on AFSCME’s targeting of thousands of unlicensed providers who also have received state subsidies for inclusion in a union election.  Stevens calls the legally unlicensed — though registered with the state — providers  who often provide temporary care and don’t have to follow the rules and regulations as licensed providers a “mere pawn in the numbers game to obtain votes”.

“You wouldn’t take a carpenter who wasn’t licensed and let him vote in a union shop, but yet they’re thinking legally unlicensed providers can vote on things for licensed providers just to get their numbers, just to be able to get the votes to pass.  And that to me is unethical,” Stevens said.

About 9,000 providers, almost equally divided between licensed and non-licensed care givers, received state subsidies in the past year and would be eligible to vote.  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.

Kathy Stevens

Kathy Stevens

“We are not state employees, do not receive state benefits and should be able to decide our own fate.  As individual self-employed providers, we should be able to choose which representation we prefer,” Stevens writes in testimony submitted in her absence for Monday’s legislative hearing on the Child Care Collective Bargaining Act.

A photo in the AFSCME Stepping Up newsletter from December 2012 features Stevens being sworn in as the second ranking official of Local 3400 last year, along with President Lisa Thompson and several other members. Now she’s sworn off the union’s tactics, but not unions altogether.

“I’ve been involved with unions for 44 years and I’ve never met a local like this one, ever.  They said this is the new union.  Well, I don’t know,” Stevens said.  “This isn’t the way we want our profession to look.  We don’t want to be underhanded. We don’t want to use people just to get what we want.  This is a respectable profession and we need to have it maintained as a respectable profession and I don’t think that’s what’s happened.”

After vying against the veteran union activist Stevens, licensed family providers who oppose AFSCME’s drive are just relieved that not all of Minnesota Child Care Providers Together are together as the unionization drive and debate heats up at the State Capitol.

Contact Tom Steward at tom@watchdogminnesota.org.

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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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/angie.penmanwilson Angie Penman-Wilson

    I’d like to know what the breaking point was for Kathy. I have been against lumping together all types of caregivers from the beginning and giving the opportunity to vote to only those who accept children on assistance. I wonder if the Child Care Union members realize how many providers will stop taking children on assistance if they are going to have fees taken out of their payments. I’m not anti union either – but this particular union just does not make sense when we have so many other programs in place to support LICENSED providers. (Think Small, RCCCA, MLFCCA, etc).

  • heidihoneighbor

    The union served its purpose 70 years ago.

    The union currently exists to make union bosses rich, and buys democratic votes.

    Do a search on how much money unions give to democrats, howany special rules and laws dems give back to unions.

    Search how many luxury hotels, jets, vehicles etc the unions bought with our money.

  • http://www.facebook.com/randy.olson.1840 Randy Olson

    Tom Steward, thank you thank you thank you – I can’t say it enough – for putting this piece together.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jean.langhayes Jean Lang Hayes

    I have been doing child care for 28 years, and MN is such a wonderful resource for child care providers with organizations like Angie mentioned, Think Small, and others. I am a member with several, and it was my choice. I wasn’t forced to join.
    We are all small business owners, and I am by no means anti-union, but I am against someone coming in and collecting dues for something I don’t want or need.

    I applaud Kathy for taking the steps to pull away and to realize this isn’t a good move for care care providers in MN. To lump unlicensed in with licensed child care providers is so wrong.
    I wish this battle would just go away and let us do the job we were meant to do. Take care of the children in our care. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/maureen.k.sullivan Maureen Knoll Sullivan

    Kathy reinforces what those of us opposed to CCPT-MN have been saying all along. We thought this was done last year, but it keeps coming back and this time using unlicensed providers. When will these people understand that the true majority of LICENSED providers do not want or need a union? We are small businesses as varied as the providers that run them, giving parents a more affordable choice than a center. We are smart women (and a few men!) who have the ability to ‘collectively bargain’ our own rates, policies and benefits, find and take our own trainings and shape our business in the way we want them to be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/randy.olson.1840 Randy Olson

    Maureen, what? So you really don’t want the $40 or more monthly charge to be union or fair-shared?? AFSCME sure makes it sound necessary and desirable!! (Liars, every last one of them)

  • kathy stevens

    AFSCME PEOPLE is the political fund that union members voluntarily commit to or donate for political activatist activity and lobbying. This hasn’t been made very clear in the press. It does not come out of the union dues. Just to clarify. I don’t think even Gov Dayton understand this by some of the comments he has made.

  • kathy stevens

    It is $25 per month for union dues at this time

  • kathy stevens

    The breaking point was the realization that Greater Minnesota providers were actually losing their voice instead of having a greater voice. Some of the tactics by the current leadership was something I could not sign my name to. For those who want to join the union, more power to them but I will stick with the organizations I am currently with to represent me and it is a given that I won’t back down if I believe in something. I believe in the right for providers to be represented and heard but also need and have the right to be able to choose who will sit at the bargaining table for them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/randy.olson.1840 Randy Olson

    Kathy, I tip my hat to you for your courage and thoughtfulness on this issue. You’re a brave soul. Keep up the great work with your children. The concept of a union or collective bargaining is a wonderful part of our democracy, but what AFSCME is trying to do is not based on democracy, fair play or even common sense.

  • http://www.facebook.com/randy.olson.1840 Randy Olson

    That’s an important clarification to note. Union dues simply support the human and/or physical infrastructure of the union, correct? (i.e. – human resources, legal support, etc. for union members?)

  • kathy stevens

    Their purpose is to support workers in workplace issues such as safety, working conditions, benefits, wages,workers rights, etc.

  • kathy stevens

    Thank you for your support. I believe everyone has the right to organize if they so chose. In any other business, if you don’t want to work in a union shop, you can look for another position in your line of work elsewhere. That does not seem to be an option in licensed family child care if unlicensed family child care is given the right to vote on issues concerning us and we are forced into unionization. You never see a this in a union shop in any other profession, why ours? There is talk of attaching dues to our licensing fees for those who do not receive CCAP reimbursement if all of providers are to be unionized.

  • http://www.facebook.com/randy.olson.1840 Randy Olson

    Kathy, thank you again for the updated information. Always good to know what might be “on the horizon” ready to threaten these extremely valuable businesses.

    I hope you won’t get any blow back on this…let us know if you do!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jane.wegener.7 Jane Wegener

    Forcing child care providers to unionize is one of the worst things that could happen to the children. Unions as in education are NEVER about the children but they are about money and control. This is a BAD idea.

  • Free the freeloaders

    Without the Unions voice who would be in Washington fighting to keep your small business welfare check? I don’t know what word it has been given to disguise the guilt of a person that leaches off tax payers to keep their highly honorable so called business empire they created.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stacy.boysen Stacy Boysen

    I’m not sure I understand you. CCAP is not welfare for child care providers. It’s a family assistance program for parents who cannot afford child care, based on their income.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stacy.boysen Stacy Boysen

    Thank you for sharing your story, Kathy!!

  • sandy masgai

    I have been saying this for the past few years. It is unfair to have the legally unlicensed providers, not follow the same rules I have too. No one checks their paper work or dresser drawers, bath room closets or locked rooms that might belong to older children living in the house. They do not have the required training that I do.
    They also don’t pay a licensing fee (I don’t think)
    I have in the past and who knows maybe in the future i may be able to help a family with state paid child care. If this union is passed many provides will just quit and Minnesota working families will be back to NO child care or child care with out quality.
    This union is not for me. I was at an information meeting and when I asked too many questions one of the union staff asked me to stop talking and to not ask any more questions because I was distracting other providers.
    I support Kathy Stevens decision