by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
It doesn’t guarantee there will be a child care providers’ union, said Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park.
But his bill guarantees a vote on the issue.
“I believe in bargaining rights,” said Nelson, a union carpenter and business manager.
Nelson and Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, presented legislation on Monday (Feb. 25) they hope advances a unionization vote among some child care providers.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton last session attempted by executive order to call a vote only to see the order thrown out by a judge.
Flanked by pro-union supporters at the State Capitol, lawmakers heralded the legislation that would have some 9,000 licensed and unlicensed family child care providers that receive state Child Care Assistance Program subsidies voting on the question of unionization.
Lisa Thompson, a St. Paul child care provider and president of Child Care Providers Together Local 3400 — a group associated with American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5 — conceded the initiative is controversial because it’s different from what some people think of unions.
Thompson and other advocates portrayed unionization as a means of reaching isolated businesses, improving training, offering collective bargaining for higher subsidies and more sensible regulations.
Under the bill, unionization would occur if more than half of the child care providers sign union authorization cards, or take other affirmative steps.
If this fails to occur, an election could take place if more than 30 percent of the providers indicate a willingness to join a union.
Unionization does not necessarily translate into higher child care payments for families, advocates argue.
“That’s up to individual providers,” Thompson said of setting rates.
Advocates argue that unionization of child care providers, something already achieved in 16 states, they say, would ensure more affordable rates by keeping more family-based operations in business.
These family businesses offer better rates than found at chain day care centers, they say.
“We have a common goal,” Jennifer Munt, public affairs director for AFSCME Council 5, said of the providers.
And there will never be a child care providers’ strike, advocates insist.
The legislation specifically states child care providers do not have the right to strike.
According to advocates, providers who do not want any part of the union would still need to pay 85 percent of the union dues.
Child Care Providers Together Local 3400 has set its union dues at $25 per month, Thompson said.
Becky Swanson, a Lakeville child care provider, and Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, were sharply critical of the legislation.
Providers speak up for themselves, they argue.
“I have a voice,” said Swanson, one of the plaintiffs in the successful suit against Dayton’s executive order.
Advocates are trying to stampede the legislation through, Swanson indicated.
“It’s kind of ‘let’s pass this bill before you read it,’” Swanson said.
She wasn’t sure what she would do if the legislation became law, she explained.
Swanson currently does not have any children enrolled at her child care whose payments are subsidized by the state, she noted.
But that doesn’t means she’d never want any in the future, she explained.
Government money, channeled through the assistance program toward the union in terms of union fees, constitutes a form of “money laundering,” Franson argued.
For Nelson, it’s a question of fairness.
“It’s doesn’t guarantee that there’s going to be a union,” he said of his bill.
“But it guarantees they (providers) are going to have a vote, like everybody else does,” he said of teachers are others represented by unions.
Nelson assumes Dayton supports the legislation.
It places the onus on the Legislature, not on an executive order, Nelson said.
“I believe its got a good chance (of passing) in the House,” he said.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]