By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota
Even as the Minnesota Legislature passed a bitterly contested bill Monday authorizing a vote among home-based child care business owners and personal health care attendants on a collective bargaining unit, union opponents already were preparing to mount a constitutional challenge.
“We haven’t fought this for eight years to let this die now. You will see us in court,” said Becky Swanson, a child care owner and provider who was part of a 2010 case that struck down a 2011 gubernatorial executive order for a union election. The court ruled the matter should be decided by the Legislature.
“As we’ve said all along, this bill is simply about giving us the right to choose for ourselves,” Darleen Henry, a Rosemount home care worker who supports the union, said in a news release. “By forming a union, we can negotiate with the state for better wages, paid time off, even training. Mine and my mother’s future, as well as everyone else’s, could only get better.”
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members in the Capitol Rotunda were confident as the end of a combined 27 hours of debate in the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives wrapped up just hours before the end of the legislative session.
“This is nothing more than union payback at the cost of low-income families,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, in the heated weekend debate.
“If we pass this legislation, all we’re saying is, it’s their choice,” said Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul.
A House prohibition on applause didn’t stop the cheering in the gallery with the culminating 68-66 vote that included no Republicans and all but a handful of Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) members in support. The controversial bill now goes to Gov. Mark Dayton, who’s expected to sign it.
The measure sets the stage for AFSCME and SEIU to attempt to organize an estimated 20,000 home-based child care small business owners and personal care attendants who receive state subsidies for their clients. Licensed family child care businesses will be organized by AFSCME, while personal care attendants will be organized by SEIU. At the same time, organized labor likely will face legal battles in both state and federal court.
“I’m focused on getting child care providers the right to collectively bargain,” said Lisa Thompson, an AFSCME Council 5 organizer, when asked about possible legal hurdles. “I’m not a lawyer.”
The same legal team that prevailed against Dayton’s executive order will argue that the state’s nearly 11,000 licensed family child care home-based providers are small business owners who are not subject to union organization under the National Labor Relations Act.
“We’ll move as fast as we reasonably can after the signing,” said Doug Seaton, a Twin Cities attorney representing employers. “We know the process will likely be moving fast, just as it did under the governor’s executive order on the part of the unions.”
Licensed family child care businesses overwhelmingly oppose the union drive, according to a recent member survey conducted by the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association. The results also showed that 38 percent of respondents would no longer accept children on assistance if it means paying fair share fees or union dues. Others say they will need to pass along the costs, driving up rates.
Under the bill, thousands of unlicensed providers who often care for friends and family members on a temporary basis would be included, possibly outnumbering eligible licensed child care business owners in a union vote.
“My husband is in a union and I support his union, that’s fine with me,” said Hollee Saville, a Twin Cities child care business owner. “But he’s against this bill because I’m not an employee, I’m an employer. If they can unionize family child care providers what about grocery store owners who accept food stamps or doctors and dentists who provide subsidized health care?”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation also intends to file a federal lawsuit alleging a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of association and political expression through government coercing business owners to be represented by a union.
“It’s another union power grab and disappointing, but that’s why the First Amendment exists,” said Bill Messenger, the attorney who will bring the case.
“We will never give up, even if something were to happen and all these lawsuits were to fail, which I don’t think they will,” said Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester licensed child care business owner who will be the lead plaintiff in the federal case. “We will work continuously until these laws are repealed, just as they’ve been repealed in so many other states.”
Seven states have active child care provider unions — Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington. Eight states have repealed a child care provider union or no longer enforce a prior executive order — Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill establishing a union in California.
Contact Tom Steward at [email protected]