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A Ramsey County judge on Monday blocked a vote on child-care unionization that was to have started Wednesday among thousands of providers across Minnesota.
The ruling came after some child-care providers and Republicans said Gov. Mark Dayton overstepped his authority in calling for the vote last month. Ramsey County District Judge Dale Lindman said he respected the governor's executive powers but was not persuaded that the unionization vote had to take place so quickly.
"I just believe the process should go through" the Legislature, Lindman said. He issued a temporary restraining order that will prevent mail-in ballots from going out on Wednesday. "I don't understand where there's a need for speed."
The ruling, a setback for Dayton, was a rare case in Minnesota in which a lower-court judge blocked a governor's executive order. "I am pleased the court was clear that I did not misuse my authority in issuing the executive order," Dayton said in a statement after the three-hour hearing. "I have asked to meet with the attorney general to determine our next steps."
Lindman ordered a hearing for a temporary injunction on Jan. 16 hearing -- nine days before the Legislature convenes its 2012 session on Jan. 24. That timing makes it unlikely that a union vote will take place before the session begins.
Attorneys for child-care providers opposed to the vote, along with Republican legislators, hailed the ruling as evidence that Dayton had overstepped his gubernatorial powers and was trying to push unionization through before the Republican-controlled Legislature convened in January.
"Obviously, we're pleased," said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, who had supported a Minnesota Senate brief that labeled Dayton's order "unprecedented and lawless."
The election was to have started on Wednesday, with a two-week period for mail-in ballots. Although there are 11,000 licensed child-care providers in Minnesota, Dayton's order would have restricted the election to 4,300 providers eligible to care for children on a state subsidy program. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), along with the Service Employees International Union have been organizing that subset for years.
Gregg Corwin, an attorney representing AFSCME, said blocking the vote would amount to a "coup by the Legislature," limiting Dayton's authority to issue orders to his department heads in asking for the election.
"What's the injury if this election goes forward?" asked Corwin.
From the outset, the unionization fight pitted Dayton against the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said Monday that the vote amounted to "government overreaching into an already highly and carefully regulated industry."
Child-care providers against unionization cheered the judge's decision.
"I'm ecstatic. I was very happy to hear the verdict," said Jean Lang, a child-care provider in St. Paul who opposed the vote.
Earlier Monday, before the judge's ruling, Dayton said that the objections to the unionization move were part of an "anti-union fervor."
"I continue to believe that in a democracy people should have rights to elections to determine their own destinies," he said.
Jennifer Munt, an AFSCME spokeswoman, said she was disappointed and that Republican legislators had cut benefits for child-care providers even as they claimed to be looking out for their best interests.
"They are not our voice," she said of the Republican legislative majorities.
During Monday's hearing, Lindman repeatedly challenged lawyers for Dayton and the unions on the timing of the vote.
Why not, he asked, "simply submit this to the Legislature in the form of a bill [and] we don't have this whole issue?"
Alan Gilbert, an assistant state attorney general representing Dayton, objected. "There's been what, two days' notice of this, and they're asking a gubernatorial order be struck down?" Gilbert said. "It's unheard of for me."
Gilbert and union attorneys noted that 14 other states, including Kansas, had made similar moves.
"We're not in Kansas anymore," replied Thomas Revnew, an attorney arguing to stop the election.
Revnew said the union vote would essentially ask small, independent business owners working mostly out of their homes to decide whether to join a union. "There's no employer-employee relationship" between the state and the providers, he said.
Hann said that Dayton could still submit legislation next year to address child-care issues. Otherwise, he said, the attempt at unionizing providers would look like a political effort "to help out some favored constituents."
Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this article. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673