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The battle over unionizing in-home child care providers resumed Monday at the State Capitol, this time with a labor-friendly Legislature in charge.
Senate President Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, teamed up Monday on a bill that could allow an estimated 9,000 in-home care providers statewide to unionize. The action comes 10 months after DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s executive order allowing such a union election was shot down by a Ramsey County judge.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the state’s largest public employee unions, is backing the effort this year. AFSCME officials say the union would cover licensed and unlicensed providers whose client families receive subsidies from the Child Care Assistance Program.
AFSCME said the union would negotiate with the state over such issues as training, inspections and state subsidies to families, but would not get into price discussions between parents and providers. They said child care workers in a union would not have the right to strike.
“This legislation is very near and dear to my heart,” said Pappas, describing her experience as a parent using child care. “I can’t tell you how important it is that we have high-quality child care.”
The proposal drew immediate opposition from providers who say small independent businesses would not be helped by a union — and who do not want to be forced to join.
“We’re asking, as independent business owners, to remain independent business owners,” said Becky Swanson, a Lakeville child care provider.
Swanson was among the providers who successfully sued last year to block a similar plan. At that time, AFSCME and another union, the Service Employees International Union, faced strenuous opposition to the idea from the Republican-controlled Legislature. They prevailed on Dayton to issue an executive order calling for a union election.
Ramsey County District Judge Dale Lindman said in his ruling last April 6 that Dayton exceeded his power by authorizing the election via executive order. “The proper method to proceed is for the matter to be brought to the Legislature,” he said. That is what the bill would do.
Supporters acknowledged that if the unionization effort succeeds, some providers who do not want to belong to the union may still be required to pay a portion of the dues because they would be covered by the contract. “If a majority of providers choose a union, everyone will be in a union,” said Jennifer Munt, director of public affairs for AFSCME Council 5.
Pappas, AFSCME officials and pro-union providers appeared at the news conference. Lisa Thompson of St. Paul, a child care provider who is president of AFSCME’s child care local, said the organization has been talking to providers about the union for seven years. “We need support to do our jobs well,” she said.
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, a former child care provider who opposes the union effort, introduced a bill to prohibit such unionization of independent contractors. At her own news conference, Franson said unions were expecting “payback” after campaigning for DFLers in 2012.
Munt said various AFSCME groups spent about $1 million to help DFL legislative candidates in the last election and gave a similar amount to help Dayton in his 2010 election. But Munt said Franson’s assertion of payback was wrong. “Our union is in this because of the kids, and the parents and the child care providers,” Munt said.