By Mike Kaszuba and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
In a stinging setback for Gov. Mark Dayton and union organizers, a Ramsey County judge on Monday blocked a childcare unionization vote that was to start in just two days.
Ramsey County District Judge Dale Lindman issued a temporary restraining order to stop the election that Dayton, through an executive order, had called for last month. The judge, while saying he was respecting the governor’s executive powers, said he was not persuaded that the unionization vote had to occur so quickly.
"I just believe the process should go through" the Legislature, Lindman said following a three-hour court hearing.
But lawyers representing Dayton and two unions said that, should the unionization vote prevail among 4,300 childcare providers, it would simply allow a dialogue between state officials and the providers and that any resulting changes to state law would ultimately have to be approved by the Legislature. Gregg Corwin, an attorney representing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees, said that stopping the vote would amount to a “coup by the Legislature” to take away Dayton’s executive power to issue orders to his department heads in asking for the election.
From the outset, the childcare unionization fight had pitted Dayton, a DFLer, against the Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.
Opponents, which included Republicans in the Minnesota Senate, said Dayton's order delved into issues that are beyond the scope of his power.
The Minnesota Senate's friend-of-the-court brief called Dayton’s executive order “unprecedented and lawless, exceeding his scope of constitutional and statutory authority and usurping legislative power.’’
"We are encouraged by Judge Lindman’s decision to halt day care union election [and] will continue to stand in support of our day care providers," Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, said on Twitter following the judge’s decision.
Repeatedly during Monday’s hearing, Lindman challenged lawyers for Dayton and the unions. Why not "simply submit this to the Legislature in the form of a bill (and) we don't have this whole issue?" the judge asked.
But 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 of the move for a temporary restraining order. "It's unheard of for me."
Gilbert and union attorneys also said that governors in 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.
With the judge ordering a Jan. 16 hearing for a temporary injunction – and the Legislature scheduled to convene Jan. 24 – the temporary restraining order likely nixed any chances that the unionization vote could go forward before the 2012 legislative sessions begins.
The election would have allowed 4,300 child care workers who are eligible to care for children on a state subsidy program to vote on whether or not to unionize. That's a fraction of the 11,000 child care workers who are licensed by the state, but because they did not receive state subsidies within the past year would not be included in the vote.
“I respect the decision of the court today,” Dayton said in a statement after the judge’s ruling. “I am pleased the court was clear that I did not misuse my authority in issuing the executive order. I have asked to meet with the attorney general to determine our next steps.
“I continue to believe that in a democracy, people should have rights to elections to determine their own destinies,” the governor added.
On Monday morning, before the judge issued his order, Dayton said that the objections to the move were part of an "anti-union fervor."
The ballots were set to be mailed Wednesday and the election was to be complete before the end of the year.
“I’m ecstatic. I was very happy to hear the verdict,” said Jean Lang, a childcare provider in St. Paul who opposed the union vote.