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Senate committee joins lawsuit to block child-care union election order

Posted by: Jim Ragsdale Updated: December 1, 2011 - 2:56 PM

The Senate Rules Committee has joined an attempt to block Gov. Mark Dayton's child-care union election order.

The committee, made up of top Senate leaders, voted 6-1 to join a lawsuit filed by opponents of unionizing in-home child-care workers. The vote was along party lines, with all Republicans supporting it and the lone DFLer present voting against it.

The resolution accuses Dayton of exceeding his legal and constitutional authority in his Nov. 15 executive order, when the governor set an election to determine if certain licensed, in-home child-care providers wish to join unions. The vote would involve roughly 4,300 of the state's 11,000 providers, and those voting will have the opportunity to decide whether to join a union or not.

On Monday, a group of providers opposed to unionization, backed by a coalition of conservative groups, filed suit to block the order. That suit is set for a hearing on Monday; the mail-in election is tentatively scheduled to begin on
Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, who chairs the Rules Committee, said she personally opposes the unionization effort. But she and other Republican legislative leaders said the point of the challenge was to call out Dayton on what they consider governing by executive order, rather than trying to have bills passed by the Legislature.

"I think it's a bad idea,'' Koch said of the union drive. "This goes beyond whether you think it's a good idea or not.''

Koch said the resolution directs the Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Analysis office to file a brief in support of the anti-union lawsuit. Previously, two Senate leaders who oppose unionization, Sens. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and Mike Parry, R-Waseca, said they may  file their own lawsuit. Hann and Parry were at the Rules Committee meeting and supported filing the brief, rather than initiating a separate lawsuit.

The resolution states that the Senate "has a clear and compelling interest in preventing the Governor from exercising powers reserved to the Legislature under the Minnesota Constitution.'' Dayton has said he has been advised that his order is within his legal and constitutional authority.

Republican Senate leaders harshly criticized Dayton's use of executive orders, saying the first-year governor is issuing them at a much faster pace than his predecessors. "It's not an individual potentate that sits in the corner office and makes law without the Legislature involved,'' said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

"It's great to govern by executive order when you've got a Legislature run by the other party,'' said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, the Deputy Senate Minority Leader, referring to the DFL governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature. "If he could, he'd want to pass a budget by executive order, or build a stadium by executive order.''

The only DFLer present, Sen. Richard Cohen of St.Paul, said Republicans had not objected to even more sweeping executive orders when the issuing governor was a Republican. He said when Republicans agreed with the substance of Dayton's earlier orders, such as one streamlining rules and regulations, they applauded him.

"This is more politics than anything else,'' Cohen said.

Dayton said every order he has signed "is for a purpose that I believed in and will stand behind, and was lawful, as I was advised by counsel.''

He said the "real issue" is that opponents of the order don't want child care workers to decide by themselves whether or not to be represented by a union.

"I think it's another part of the extremism that we've seen from the Tea Party crusade,'' Dayton said.

The dispute involves a six-year attempt by two unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Unions, to unionize licensed family child-care providers, almost all of whom work out of their homes. The unions have divided the state, so the election, if it occurs, would give providers a choice of whether or not they want to be represented by the union organizing their area.

The unions asked Dayton to recognize them via executive order. He declined to do that, instead ordering an election, and limiting it to those providers who are eligible to care for children receiving state subsidies.

Eleven providers who oppose unionization filed suit seeking to block the order. A hearing is scheduled in Ramsey County District Court on Monday. Opponents of the unions have argued that despite the limits in Dayton's order, any agreements between the unions and the state will inevitably affect all providers, and that all should vote.

 

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