The fight over unionizing in-home child-care providers kept the Minnesota Senate up through the night, as supporters and opponents debated whether the small, private businesses should have a right to vote on unionization.

After 17 hours of discussion that spanned two legislative days, the bill was approved on a 35-32 vote.

The debate began Tuesday afternoon and was still going strong as dawn broke over the State Capitol on Wednesday, with senators tied up considering a series of amendments offered by opponents.

By 6 a.m. Wednesday, GOP senators critical of the legislation had dozens of amendments ready to bring up.

Shortly before 7 a.m., the GOP senators dropped the remaining amendments and debate on the final version of the bill began.

But procedurally, the Senate laid the bill on the table, adjourned the "legislative day's" session just before 7 a.m., and then immediately covened at 7:01 a.m. to start the Wednesday "legislative day."

The final vote came around 8:15 a.m.

The bill seeks to give two groups of workers the right to vote on whether to form unions. In addition to in-home family child-care workers, who are being organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, the bill would allow a union vote for some personal care attendants who care for elderly and disabled people in the home. They have been organized by the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU.

Union officials have estimated the total number of workers affected at 21,000. But much of the controversy has been focused on the child-care providers.

"This is an unwanted, unnecessary bill," said Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester. "This is going to result in higher costs for parents, lower pay for child-care providers and $8 million in union dues."

"Yes, we do want this," said Lisa Thompson, president of the nascent union and a St. Paul child-care provider. "The only way to certainly make substantial changes in the system, and support the people who do the caregiving, is to join together with one collective voice."

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.

Under the bill, the unions would have to obtain support from 500 providers to obtain a list of the entire unit. If they can obtained support from 30 percent of the unit, an election would be called. A majority of those participating would be needed to form the union. If the union is formed, members of the unit would be subject to dues and fees.

The unions would then have the exclusive right to negotiate with the state, with any agreements to be ratified by the Legislature. Language in the bill specifies that it will not interfere with parents' rights to select providers or the ability of child-care providers to set their own fees.

The two unions have been working on organizing in-home workers for years. They sought and received an executive order from Sen. Mark Dayton that allowed a union vote, but a district court threw out the order, saying the issue must go to the Legislature. Now with a DFL Legislature, the issue has returned as a top union priority.

Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042