A second legal front has opened with a group of child care providers from across Minnesota saying Thursday that it intends to fight in federal court any unionization of its profession.

The care providers say they will seek a federal judge's ruling on constitutional issues raised in the wake of Gov. Mark Dayton's executive order calling for thousands of in-home child care providers to vote on forming a union. At this point, a Ramsey County judge's temporary restraining order is barring that vote.

"We wish we didn't have to be in this position to begin with," Jennifer Parrish, a child care provider from Rochester, said in a statement released through the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a free-market advocacy group.

"But since we were put in this position," Parrish added, "we do believe that this violates our First Amendment rights, and we intend to argue that in court."

The nonprofit National Right to Work Foundation has offered free legal assistance to the providers, according to the free-market group, .

"The First Amendment guarantees everyone the right to choose with whom they associate to petition government, and . . . the government can't choose who's going to represent providers for lobbying the state," Bill Messenger, an attorney with the National Right to Work Foundation, said in a statement released by the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.

Dayton's order for the election would be limited to the 4,300 child-care providers who received a state subsidy within the past year; it would not affect nearly 7,000 other providers. Lawyers involved in the case have said that most of the providers affected by Dayton's order worked out of their homes, providing care to as many as 14 children.

On Feb. 22, Ramsey County District Judge Dale Lindman is scheduled to weigh a motion for summary judgment on whether to block the union election. In December, Lindman issued a temporary restraining order preventing the election, saying he was not convinced Dayton needed to move so quickly. The unions and Dayton are contesting the judge's decision.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482