Gov. Mark Dayton responded to attacks on his decision to allow a unionization vote among certain child care providers by defending their right to decide for themselves and suggesting that opponents are trying to frighten them.

In the latest of a series of political and legal battles over Dayton's executive order providing for the vote, the DFL governor on Tuesday took on House Republican leaders who have criticized his decision.

"It appears that you and other opponents of unions are trying to scare small family providers that a big, bad union and the big, bad government will join forces to ruin child care in Minnesota," Dayton said in a letter to the leaders. "It isn't true."

Dayton's letter to House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said his order only applies to those in-home, licensed child-care providers who are registered to receive subsidies from the state -- about 4,300 of the 11,000 total. Those providers would decide via a mail-in ballot whether to affiliate with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees or the Service Employees International Union. The vote is tentatively scheduled for next month.

Zellers and Dean could not be reached for comment.

In his letter, Dayton said people join unions "because they often find their collective voice is more effective than their individual voices" in improving pay and benefits. "Furthermore, your underlying implication is that a nefarious union and rogue state agency would, by themselves, be able to make state policy ... which would severely harm other child care providers," he wrote. "You know that is not true." He said any agreements between the unions and the state would have to go through the legislative or rule-setting process.

"I continue to be amazed that in this democracy there are people opposed to allowing them to hold an election to decide the matter among themselves, for themselves,'' Dayton said in his letter.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Dayton said there are "probably other forces operating in this.'' He said he referred to those who are "putting up the money to engage in lawsuits.'' The Minnesota Majority, a traditional values lobbying and advocacy group, is part of the coalition that is helping fund the anti-unionization lawsuit.

The group also is helping organize an anti-unionization rally at the Capitol rotunda at noon Saturday.

Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042