Gov. Mark Dayton shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss critics of an ongoing election to unionize Minnesota’s child care providers. Recent questions from Republican legislators and others about whether some providers have been unfairly left out of the voting process are not only reasonable, but troubling. These inquiries are not “harassing tactics,’’ as Dayton recently dubbed them.
The long, controversial push to unionize the state’s child care providers culminated in balloting by mail that began Feb. 8 and ends Monday. Legislation passed in 2013 by a DFL-controlled Legislature allowed child care providers who get payments from a publicly funded child care subsidy program for poor families to collectively bargain with the state.
An election petition filed in January triggered the balloting. If approved, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union — a longtime political ally of the DFL — will represent the child care providers. The Editorial Board opposed the 2013 legislation for many reasons. Chief among them: that child care providers are business owners, not employees. And, that union dues would be deducted from the publicly funded payments to providers.
Alarms about the election underscore these lingering concerns. Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, has publicly questioned the process. A lawsuit has been filed, claiming that the 2013 law is unconstitutional because so few of the state’s family day care operators got a ballot. Critics have contended that a smaller pool of voters improves the chance of a “yes” vote.
The process by which the state Department of Human Services (DHS) repeatedly winnowed the list of providers eligible to vote certainly does raise red flags. Just 2,348 ballots were sent out.
The list of eligible voters was limited to licensed and unlicensed providers receiving state assistance for a child in their care. DHS officials, who contend that they are adhering to state law, further narrowed the list of ballot-eligible providers to only those who received program payments in December. The number of ballots sent out represents 49 percent of licensed and unlicensed home providers registered with the program in 2015.
There is understandable confusion among child care providers. Many thought they would be eligible for a ballot if they received payments any time in 2015 — not just in a single month. This meant that some didn’t get a ballot because they bill the state program periodically to minimize paperwork and hadn’t sent in an invoice triggering a December payment. Some providers in the western suburbs were also left out of balloting through no fault of their own because Wright County delayed program payments in December.
State officials said this week they have received about 80 “inquiries” about balloting from concerned providers. At a minimum, state officials should take these concerns seriously and take steps to ensure that all providers eligible for a ballot get one. A remedy is also needed for providers left out of balloting because of the Wright County delay.
The child care assistance program, known as CCAP, provides vital assistance to working families. Improved funding is needed to shrink its vast waiting list and ensure the program complies with federal standards. Doubts about the fairness of this union election must be aired and resolved swiftly to ensure this worthy program gets the political support it deserves.