Minnesota currently has approximately 11,000 licensed family child care providers operating in the state, the vast majority of which are operating as home-based small businesses. But if two of the largest labor unions have their way, these independent operators may soon join the ranks of organized labor. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are working to collect signatures from childcare providers in different parts of the state, in a large-scale (but under-the-radar) effort to unionize the sector. The unions have patterned the drive after similar campaigns in other states that targeted providers with clients that receive state childcare subsidies.
The motivation is obvious. At a time when union workers have become almost synonymous with public workers, this pool of 11,000 daycare providers are seen by organized labor as an opportunity to expand their sphere of influence outside the ranks of traditional government work.
The effort is remarkable for a few reasons, not the least of which is the relative secrecy with which it’s happening. Unions are enlisting support among home-based day care providers by going, as you might expect, to their homes. This door-to-door drive targeting of thousands of independent operators helps explain the lack of public attention. It’s also possible that many providers have unwittingly signed on for something they do not support. The Rochester provider who is leading opposition to the union recently said: “Just about everybody we have spoken to has said they were not told by signing that card they were supporting a union. The main theme seems to be people are being told they can sign up for more information or be put on a mailing list.” The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota has spoken to several individuals who have had similar experiences with the unions.
In addition to unions collecting signatures from a majority of the childcare providers, Governor Dayton would also need to sign an executive order to validate the unionization drive. To date, the governor’s office has declined to indicate whether Governor Dayton would sign that executive order, saying only that he is in the “information gathering” stage. It’s worth noting that both AFSCME and SEIU were major contributors to Dayton last year.
Why should it matter to Minnesotans? Everything from the cost of daycare to government’s role in a child’s upbringing could be affected. While the unions insist that they would simply give providers an opportunity to potentially gain a public pension or higher subsidy rates for children receiving publicly subsidized daycare, opposition to the unions is growing. Opponents object to what they consider a misleading campaign by the unions, a lack of perceived benefits from the union, and as one provider said: “I’m a self-employed business owner, not an employee of the government.”
The unions themselves have given providers plenty of reason for concern. Indeed, as one AFSCME representative recently said, “The time to talk about concrete benefits is after a union has been recognized and a contract has been negotiated.” To modify an old axiom from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, you have to vote for the union to see what’s in it for you.
That time may come sooner than people realize. Some organizers claim they already have the required signatures from a majority of the state’s licensed childcare providers, and providers in more than a dozen states have been unionized since AFSCME and SEIU began their door-to-door campaign about six years ago. So while the effort has largely flown under the radar of local media and even home daycare providers, the unions efforts should be taken seriously.
Unionization would represent a radical shift not only for home childcare providers, but also the parents and children that depend upon them. Governor Dayton should address this issue and explain his intentions. The thousands of committed providers who care for Minnesota children each day have enough things to worry about. They deserve to know whether government intrusion and compulsory union dues have been added to that list.
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