Supporters and opponents of a care workers unionization bill descended on the Minnesota House Saturday.

Veterans of this long battle, which extends back nearly a decade for some participants, exchanged shouts of "Yes!" and "No!" in front of the House chambers.

They came for a debate and vote on a bill, already passed by the Senate, that would allow in-home child care workers and personal care assistants to vote on whether to unionize. The bill is expected to come up in the House Saturday afternoon or evening.

Green- and purple-shirted members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) changed and carried signs in support of the bill.

A group of opposing child-care providers and their supporters were equally adamant in their insistence that the House defeat the bill.

"It's another step towards professionalism,"  said Sharon O'Boyle, a child-care provider in Washington County. "We'll have a legal voice to collectively bargain with the state. That's what we need -- we need that legal voice."

She said the possibility of health-care benefits for child-care providers is another reason to have the union. She has been a member of the nascent AFSCME union, known as Child Care Providers Together, since 2007. "We deserve to have a vote," she said. "This bill will give us a vote."

On the other side was Jennifer Parrish, who operates a family child care business in Rochester and has been fighting child-care unionization for eight years. Her organization, Coalition of Child Care Providers, has led opposition to the bill.

"I'm tired, and quite frankly, I'm broke," she said."Regardless of how this is voted on, this is not the end," she said. "They're going to continue to keep coming back."

"The way the bill is written, the deck is definitely stacked in the union's favor," she said. "Excluding thousands of licensed providers from the vote, and having all these unlicensed caregivers who aren't even providing care eligible to vote, just is not fair."

The bill limits the unit that would vote on unionization to those providers, both licensed and unlicensed, who care for children under the state subsidy program. That excludes a large number of providers from deciding whether to unionize. Parrish would be eligible to vote under the current bill.

"If every single licensed provider here was able to vote, we would definitely win an election in a landslide, and they know that," Parrish said. "This bill is just a way to try to get this rammed through without the providers having much say in it."

A small but determined group of providers and union activists demonstrated on the steps of the Minnesota House throughout the day. Many said after an eight-year battle, they planned to see the vote through to sunrise Sunday.
“We are virtually standing up for our rights, for the Constitution of the United States, for our freedoms, so that we have the right to run a business,” said Becky Swanson, a child care provider from Lakeville.
“We’re independent, small business owners, and this is the last battle essentially in this war,” said Hollee Saville, a child-care provider from St. Michael. “This is a dangerous precedent for all small business owners in Minnesota.”
Clarissa Johnston, a child care provider from Mounds View who wore a green AFSCME shirt, said, “This gives me an opportunity to pay dues to financially secure resources for my profession.” 
Lynn Barten, a provider in Alexandria, said a union would give her “a voice at the table for all the rules and regulations that are being handed to us…. We need somebody looking out for us and our best interests here.”



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