Is the governor trying to skirt the Legislature on this matter?
Usually, this would be a quiet time at the State Capitol.
However, recent remarks by Gov. Mark Dayton have created a controversy over his desire to unionize in-home child care providers through executive action.
The unionization of these providers has been a long-time goal of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
These unions have organized day care providers in 15 other states, and, according to testimony, their support of candidate Dayton in the last election was linked to his commitment to bring about unionized home day care in Minnesota.
The governor originally considered one of two courses of action: Issue an executive order that would unilaterally recognize the unions as representatives of the more than 11,000 home day care providers in Minnesota, or issue an executive order to direct the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) to organize an election to unionize among the providers.
Dayton has since said he will not pursue an order for direct unionization. But he has not made a final decision on directing the BMS to organize an election. Questions of legality and process, and of what this would mean for our 11,000 providers and the 130,000 children they care for, cannot go unanswered.
These private business owners deserve to have their voices heard. Our Senate informational hearing on Sept. 22 provided the first opportunity.
Unfortunately, after three hours of public testimony, more questions than answers still surround this issue.
A fundamental question concerns the legality of the governor issuing an executive order to either unionize the providers or to direct the BMS to hold an election --without a legislative change.
Our reading of current law makes clear that private, home-based child care providers are not public employers or employees and therefore do not fall under the jurisdiction of BMS or public employee labor relations law.
We invited the governor, members of his administration and the commissioner of the BMS to explain why they think otherwise. The governor declined our invitation and instructed state employees to refuse to meet with us. In addition to the disrespect this demonstrates to the Legislature, it raises the question, "Why?"
We also wanted to know: "What is the problem we're trying to solve?"
AFSCME and SEIU representatives and a few day care providers responded that unionization would bring higher wages, better benefits, improved health care access and stronger bargaining rights.
The question, however, is: "With whom are they to bargain?" Their answer was they wanted to bargain directly with the Department of Human Services. This suggests that Dayton and the unions want to eliminate the Legislature as the lawmaking authority with respect to budget and policy affecting home day care.
Supporters of unionization were unable, or unwilling, to give specific answers to other important questions: If a vote to unionize passes, would those opposed be forced to pay dues, since Minnesota is not a "right to work" state? Would union dues or fees be deducted from state and/or local child care subsidy payments?
What would be the financial source of health care coverage or potential pension benefits? What amount of union dues can providers anticipate?
Amazingly, the most common response we heard was: We will not have answers to these questions until the union is formed and contracts and agreements drawn up. That's akin to "passing the bill to find out what's in it." Unfortunately, we've been down that path before.
Minnesota's day care providers embody the type of entrepreneurship that we encourage in today's economy. They already operate in a carefully regulated industry.
Numerous advocacy groups and organizations represent the industry in St. Paul, and every home day care provider has two elected legislators to whom concerns and advice can be directed.
The effort to unionize private businesses seems to us to be simply the payoff for political support with the intent of expanding the influence of public union organizations in the state.
We urge the governor to cease his pursuit of unionizing home day care through executive action. Decisions like this that will directly impact thousands of hard working day care providers should be made in the Legislature, if at all.
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David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and Mike Parry, R-Waseca, serve in the Minnesota Senate.