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Record debate yields victory for care workers' unionization

Posted by: Jim Ragsdale Updated: May 15, 2013 - 12:00 PM

An all-night, 17-hour debate prompted by furious GOP opposition ended with a victory for unions seeking to organize care-workers on Wednesday.

The Senate, which began debating the unionization bill at 3 p.m. Tuesday, approved the bill on a 35-32 vote around 8:15 a.m. Wednesday.

The issue that caused the ruckus was a DFL-backed plan to allow certain in-home child care workers and in-home personal care attendants to vote on whether to unionize. The bill was backed by the two unions seeking to organize the workers -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union.

It has been bitterly opposed by Republicans, many child-care providers and conservative organizations.

The debate is believe to be the longest ever,  at least in records kept by the Legislative Reference Library. Senators and staffers and union activists remained in the chamber, or nearby, the entire time.

The result was greeted with elation by union leaders.

"This is a great day for child care providers and PCAs," said Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5. "They finally have an opportunity to decide for themselves if they want to have a union. And if they do have a union, they'll have a right to collective bargaining, which is the road to the middle class for all Americans."

The bill would allow unionization for in-home child-care providers, both licensed and unlicensed, who care for children receiving state subsidies. It would give the same opportunity to personal care attendants who work directly for the person they care for, often a relative.

Union officials have estimated the total number of workers affected at 21,000.

The sponsor, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said, "It's all about their choice, and their right to decide to organize, and to have the state get out of the way."
 
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie and other Republican foes attacked the bill as something child-care providers do not want, as a payoff to DFL-supporting unions, and as an unnecessary intrusion of government into the private sector.

"This is a horrible, horrible bill -- the worst bill in my 11 years," said Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester.

Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said if the state can get involved in child-care businesses because some accept children with state subsidies, it could expand into other businesses.

"Do we take on the grocers because they accept WIC?" he asked. "Where doe it end?"

"This is a very, very sad day," added Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont.

Throughout the day Tuesday and through the morning Wednesday, Republican foes offered amendments that were deflected by Pappas. The DFL majority was able to defeat every amendment Pappas opposed, meaning the debate did not change the bill.

The length of the debate was cited by Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, as a reason to move her vote in the other direction -- from opposition to support. 

Bakk said the Senate generally does not "call the question" to end debate, but rather lets debate run its course. A total of 29  amendments were offered and debated throughout the night, many dealing with such issues as the size of the font on union-election cards or the uses of union dues and fees.

Bakk accused the GOP minority of seeking to gum up the works in the last week of the session and force a special session, which they would then blame on the DFL majority. Hann said the debate was based on intense opposition by GOP members to the bill and that the DFL majority could have avoided the delay by simply not bringing the bill up for a vote.

In his closing arguments, Bakk held out his carpenters' union card -- which the Senate president later said was a prohibited prop -- and said the bill is in line with the union movement's commitment to building a strong middle class.

"You cannot be only for the wealthy," Bakk admonished the Republicans.

After the record debate and vote, Hann wandered over the House floor. As Republican House members prepared for their own session, he received congratulations, hand shakes and thank you from his Republican colleagues for fighting the unionization bill so long and so hard. 

And Pappas, Bakk and other supporters had their moment of congratulations, as union activists who had spent the night in the gallery cheered them after the vote.  The unionists looked forward to a weekend vote in the House.

"Another slumber party Saturday night!" one shouted.

Staff Writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this story.

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