Eleven child-care providers are asking a Ramsey County District Court to block a statewide vote on whether some providers should be able to unionize.

The group, backed by a coalition of conservative groups, filed a lawsuit on Monday that seeks an injunction to invalidate the executive order by Gov. Mark Dayton calling for the vote.

"Nothing under the law allows Governor Dayton to issue an order that dictates that small-business owners should participate in an election,'' said Tom Revnew, a lawyer for the group.

The lawsuit is the latest development in an emotional debate that has extended from child-care homes to the Capitol and is pitting the DFL governor against Republican legislative leaders.

At a news conference, one of the plaintiffs, child-care provider Becky Swanson of Lakeville, said, "This is a personal relationship between a child-care provider and the families they take care of, the children that they nurture."

Dayton's Nov. 15 executive order called for an election among some providers to determine if they want union representation. His order covers those providers who care for children receiving state subsidies -- about 4,300 of 11,000 licensed providers. It does not require providers to join a union or pay union dues. A mail-in ballot has been tentatively scheduled for Dec. 7-21.

Dayton's spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci, said on Monday that Dayton inherited this problem from his predecessors, who "denied licensed, registered family child-care providers the chance to decide for themselves whether or not they want to form a union." She said Dayton believes providers "should have the right to make that decision.''

Republican legislative leaders and a number of child-care providers object to the years-long organizing efforts of two of the state's largest unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). But while some opponents have sought to allow all providers to vote, the suit seeks to invalidate Dayton's order altogether.

Hearing set for Thursday

The GOP-led Minnesota Senate announced late Monday that its Rules Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday on Dayton's order. Some senators have said they may file a lawsuit against the governor, arguing that he exceeded his authority.

Revnew said he fears that if the vote succeeds, unions "will take the other industries on, one by one."

Dan McGrath, executive director of the Minnesota Majority, an advocacy group committed to what it sees as traditional values, said his group is part of a coalition that is helping to pay for the lawsuit. Other organizations, according to the website www.childcarefreedom.com, include the Minnesota Family Council and the Minnesota Free Market Institute. "The Minnesota Majority is interested in challenging government overreach,'' McGrath said.''

AFSCME organizing director Eric Lehto said similar suits have been filed in other states by anti-union groups and were not successful. "This is about politics-- not about children, parents or providers at all,'' he said.

Staff writer Anthony Lonetree contributed to this article. Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042