By Tom Steward | Watchdog.org Minnesota Bureau
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.
“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 [email protected]