Child-care union vote now faces federal lawsuit

Filed by 12 providers and a Virginia foundation, the lawsuit follows another in state court.

Opponents of the drive to unionize in-home child care providers have filed a second suit aimed at blocking a union vote.

A group of 12 child-care providers, aided by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis against Gov. Mark Dayton's executive order authorizing a union election. The group argues that the order is unconstitutional because it could ultimately require all providers to be represented by the union, whether they want to or not.

"In the order, the state is going to designate a representative of these providers for the purposes of petitioning the state,'' said William Messenger, an attorney for the foundation, based in Springfield, Va. "It infringes on the freedom of association -- the First Amendment protects to right to associate or not associate.''

The foundation is focused on fighting what it considers "compulsory unionism,'' such as workplaces where employees are required to be members. It is providing legal work on the lawsuit for free, Messenger said.

After an organizing drive by the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Dayton issued an order setting a union election for those providers who care for children with state subsidies -- about 4,300 of the state's 11,000 licensed in-home providers. A state lawsuit, filed in Ramsey County District Court by a separate group of providers opposed to unionization, resulted in an order that has blocked the election. A hearing in that case is scheduled for Feb. 22.

The state case also had a development Thursday. A group of 13 current or former customers of in-home child care providers said in a brief that allowing independent businesses to unionize would limit competition and violate state antitrust laws. They said customers would "personally suffer if the rates charged by licensed registered child-care providers were increased through collusive behavior.''

Union organizers argue that providers can benefit, as they have in other states, by banding together. The unions say they would be able to represent providers on licensing and regulatory issues, adding that the unions will not be involved in negotiating fees. That will remain an issue between providers and families, unions say.

Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester provider who opposes unionization and is a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, said those who want to join the unions are "welcome to it.'' But she added, "We're trying to stop them from being able to force representation on those who don't want it.''

Katharine Tinucci, spokeswoman for Dayton, said the controversy "predated Governor Dayton's time in office. The governor still believes that the fairest way to resolve this controversy is to have a vote."

The federal complaint says that if either or both unions win the elections in their geographic areas, the union would become the "exclusive" representative of all providers. It said the providers who filed the suit do not want to associate with either union "in any way" and "wish to retain their individual right to choose with whom they associate to lobby the state.''

jim.ragsdale@startribune.com • 651-925-5042 pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482

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