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Steve Hebert, Dml -

Minnesota child-care union would help kids

  • Article by: Ken Martin
  • April 24, 2013 - 7:51 PM

Preparing children for success in school and ensuring that our children are safe are goals we can all agree on. We may differ on the way to achieve these goals (“Child care labor move is an overreach,” by Tom Horner and Tim Penny, April 21).

But as Minnesotans, we value every child’s future. This is why it’s important to invest in the people who take care of the youngest of our children and to give these providers the right to vote to decide if they want a union.

Study after study shows that the first five years of a child’s life are critical and that children with access to high-quality early education enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed. Ensuring quality, affordable and stable child care will give working parents peace of mind knowing that their children are cared for by an experienced, well-trained provider.

Investing in child-care providers is another critical means of investing in our children.

Why a union?

Allowing in-home providers to form a union and collectively bargain will help professionalize family child care and improve providers’ access to critical training, including CPR and first aid, child-abuse prevention and child nutrition. This would affect only providers who receive a subsidy from the Child Care Assistance Program and would give them the right to collectively bargain with the state to raise the CCAP subsidy rate in order to have access to more resources.

The subsidy rate has remained stagnant for years and has even been cut, while costs for providers such as groceries and art supplies have increased. In 2004, the CCAP subsidy covered 68 percent of the rates that providers charged families. By 2012, the subsidy covered only 26 percent.

The subsidy is one of the main resources that providers rely on to provide healthy meals and quality learning exercises for the children they care for, but we are investing less and less in this resource, which means we are investing less and less in providers and those critical learning years of our children.

Because providers set their own rates and know parents cannot afford to pay more, they often pay for the rising expenses themselves. Providers cannot continue to work for less.

The power of a union comes from the collective voices of the thousands of members. With this powerful voice, other states stopped cuts to CCAP, and some have even increased them.

The argument that child-care associations can take the place of a union is misguided. First, associations and unions can work together. A great example is social workers and nurses, who have associations and a union that effectively collaborate to improve the quality of their professions. Child-care unions and associations could work much in the same way.

Second, associations have long advocated for an increase in the CCAP subsidy rate but have been ineffective. Third, there is no legal obligation for the state to listen to the voices of the associations. They can be easily ignored. However, if a union is formed, child care providers would have a legal voice at the table.

Many traditional child-care organizations, like Ready 4 K and Child Care WORKS, have recently closed their doors; that is why providers need a union for themselves. A union would ensure that providers would have a stable and legal voice to effectively improve the quality of their profession.

A union, through collective bargaining, would help ensure that child care remains affordable for all working families. It is one of their biggest expenses.

Home-based providers cost thousands of dollars less than child-care facilities. Working families on the CCAP subsidy rely on these providers to be able to afford child care. Yet, as it stands, there are 39 percent fewer family-based providers now than in 2000.

The increasing financial strain on providers forces many of them to close their doors. If the subsidy rate is increased, providing home-based care would be more financially feasible, and providers would no longer be forced to charge parents more to keep up with business expenses.

Minnesota has a storied tradition of providing top-notch education. A well-known study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis says that every dollar invested in early education delivers up to $16 in return. An investment in child-care providers is an investment in our children.

Everyone benefits if providers are given the right to form a union.

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Ken Martin is chairman of the DFL Party.

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