The case for child care unions

  • Article by: LYNN BARTEN and MARY ALBERT
  • Updated: May 4, 2013 - 7:18 PM

We are small-business owners, and not that well-compensated. But our true priority is the children we serve.

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Counterpoint

Child-care providers are uniting across Minnesota to provide quality care that parents can afford. We provide safe and healthy learning environments for the children we care for. We want every resource at our disposal when caring for our children.

For those of us who care for kids on the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), we also want a voice at the table. A union would give us that voice.

Let us be clear: We are smart and independent, and we are small-business owners. Most of us are women who have dedicated our lives to caring for children. That will not change if we are given the right to form a union. We will still set our own rates, hours and business practices. A union will not tell us how to run our businesses.

Here’s what a union will do:

A union will give us the right to collectively bargain with the state of Minnesota to negotiate an increase in the CCAP subsidy reimbursement rate.

For years, the subsidy has remained stagnant or has even been cut, which has put a large financial strain on providers. We are essentially being asked to do our jobs with fewer and fewer resources. Not only does this affect our pay, but it hurts the children who rely on us for healthy meals, great learning exercises and safe places to play.

Other states, such as Oregon, have successfully raised the CCAP rate through collective bargaining. Giving us a voice and a legal spot at the bargaining table will improve our profession.

Providers are small-business owners who set their own rates, but parents who rely on the CCAP subsidy cannot pay more than the subsidy provides. Providers are forced to either turn away a child in need or accept less from the child’s family.

We value the future of every child, and we will rarely, if ever, turn a child away, so we accept the subsidy with no additional charge. However, if the CCAP rate remains stagnant, providers will be forced to close their doors or turn families away.

Providers in greater Minnesota make about $2.83 per hour for each child they care for. It’s about $4.95 in the metro area. The people who care for our children at young ages, who, according to studies, are a huge factor in a child’s educational success, are being paid far less than minimum wage. Again, these are small-business owners.

Every expense providers have, whether it’s food, safety equipment, educational materials or toys, comes from their own pockets. If they have to continue to work for less, they will have less to spend on children, which is what really matters.

A union will improve the quality of care. Providers already do a great job taking care of our children, but a union will give them access to additional training so that they can do their jobs even better. Other states that have unions, such as Illinois and Maryland, have successful training programs that provide CPR, first aid, child nutrition, for example.

Child-care providers have such an important task of caring for our children in their most vulnerable years. We want every training opportunity available to us so we can continue to improve the standards of our profession. Every parent deserves to go to work with the peace of mind knowing their child is safe and in good hands.

We make smart decisions every day, and the decision to join a union will be another one.

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Lynn Barten is a child-care provider in Alexandria, Minn. Mary Albert is a child-care provider in St. Paul.

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