A House committee chairman said on Wednesday that his reservations about a child care union vote are even stronger after reading a letter by Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.
In her letter, Jesson tried to clarify the meaning of "meet and confer,'' the words used in Gov. Mark Dayton's executive order to describe how the state would negotiate with unions, should they win the right to represent some child care providers. The topics, Jesson said, could include reimbursement rates for subsidies to parents, quality standards or quality-rating systems, training opportunities, the state's early childhood education services and monitoring and evaluating through the licensure process. Some agreements between the unions and the state might require legislative action, giving all sides an opportunity to weigh in, Jesson said. But, she said, matters that would affect all providers would not be "finalized until all affected parties have a chance to voice concerns.''
Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, chairman of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, said Jesson's letter suggests that the unions and the state would have considerable latitude.
"Those are huge, giant potential areas of concern for anybody that's a child care provider or who brings a kid to a child care provider,'' he said. After reading Jesson's letter, Hoppe said, "I think it's certainly going to affect everyone ... if you're pro-union, that's good; if you want to be left alone to run a small business, it's not necessarily so good."
Two of the state's largest unions want to be able to represent the 4,300 providers whose clients get state assistance with child care costs. Those providers make up about 40 percent of Minnesota's 11,000 child care providers.
At the request of two unions, Dayton issued an order last week authorizing an election among licensed child care providers. Only those providers whose clients who get assistance from the state's Child Care Assistance Program would be eligible. Unionization critics, including Hoppe, say all providers will be affected and should be allowed to vote.
In an interview, Jesson said the "meet-and-confer" process with the unions would not stop other groups or providers from meeting with state officials. Where the state and unions discuss issues involving all providers, such as licensing, she said, "I would want to hear from everyone that is affected.''
AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, are leading the drive, seeking to represent providers in different areas of the state.
In other states, union recognition of in-home providers has had "a growing impact on the home-based child care workforce and on the child care field more generally,'' according to a 2010 report on the issue by the National Women's Law Center, an advocacy organization that supports the unionization effort.
But Hoppe said he fears that "we may be looking at a whole new world of day care in Minnesota'' if the unions win the right to represent child care providers. "I don't think it's going to be a cheaper, more user-friendly world,'' he said.