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A hard-fought decision by the DFL-controlled Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton to allow in-home child-care providers and personal care attendants to unionize is proving less than popular with Minnesotans, a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found.
A total of 46 percent of those polled disagree with the decision, while 41 percent support it and 13 percent are unsure.
That degree of volatility around the issue indicates that it could figure into races in competitive legislative districts as the GOP seeks to recapture the House in 2014.
Susan Shuler of Bloomington, working mother of a 2-year-old, worries that the bill will result in less flexibility for parents when dealing with a provider and perhaps “more stipulations for me as a mother.” Shuler is concerned that unionization’s reach could spread to child-care centers, making it harder to dismiss incompetent employees.
“Frankly, I think our society should move away from unionization on a broad-scale basis,” she said.
Thomas Gressman, a union carpenter from Cambridge, said his union has been important in his work and he believes child-care and home-care workers should have the same opportunity. “I think it would be a good idea, as long as they get the choice whether they want to unionize or not,” he said.
The bill was backed by two of the state’s largest unions, key players in the DFL coalition that refused to back down even after an earlier attempt became the subject of lawsuits by opponents. Controversy over the bill triggered a record 17-hour debate in the Senate. The bill finally passed on party-line votes.
The Minnesota Poll found that 77 percent of those who identify as Republicans oppose the idea, while 66 percent of DFLers favor it. Independents tend to be opposed, 55 to 35 percent.
About 57 percent of Hennepin and Ramsey county residents support giving child care and home health providers the chance to vote on unionizing, but suburban residents reject it, 53-34 percent. Outstate residents oppose it by 47-34 percent, although nearly one in five are undecided. Men oppose it by 57-36 percent, while women supported it 46-37 percent.
William Roos of Bloomington said he does not have a strong opinion on the issue but has concerns. “If I had to say, I’d say let them unionize if they want to. It will affect people who are running day cares. It’s mostly going to affect people who use it. … But it may turn out not to be a big deal.”
Tom Penn of Excelsior, who runs a small business in the health care field, said the union bill is another example of government reaching into the private sector. “I think the government’s messing in the wrong business,” said Penn, a respondent in the poll. “I don’t think the government has any business dictating what organization should able to unionize or to not unionize.”
The bill allows licensed and unlicensed child care providers who care for children receiving state subsidies and certain personal care assistants to vote on whether to unionize. There are currently about 12,700 child care providers in that category, and an estimated 9,000 personal care attendants who would be affected.
The unions would have to obtain signed cards from 30 percent of the affected workers in each case to produce an election, which would be conducted by the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services. If an election were to succeed, the workers would be classified as executive branch employees for the purpose of negotiating with the state, but would not have the right to strike.
The bill was bitterly opposed by the GOP minority, who derided it as a blatant payoff to two groups that contributed heavily to win DFL majorities in the House and Senate in 2012. It was supported by DFLers as a way of improving training and state subsidies for care, as well as giving the groups a “seat at the table” in funding decisions at the Capitol.
The Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association has said all licensed providers should be allowed to vote because subsequent negotiations could affect everyone, whether they are in the union or not. That is one of the issues raised in two lawsuits opponents have filed to block the union elections.