Before Minnesota lawmakers vote on controversial legislation that would allow thousands of day-care providers to collectively bargain with the state for higher child-care subsidies, here’s a key question to answer:

Exactly how would sending about a third of monthly dues to be collected to the national organization of a powerful, affiliated labor union help Minnesota families and improve day-care quality in the state?

If the legislation passes and if providers vote to unionize, $8 of every $25 collected in monthly dues would go to the national union, according to a Minnesota office of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

While the union contends this money would be well-spent on advocacy for providers and that some of it would flow back here for training, Minnesota’s interests are best-served by making sure that dollars from the publicly funded Child Care Assistance Program stay in the state and directly support families and hardworking providers.

That’s one of a number of reasons that Minnesota’s DFL legislative majorities need to stand up to the legislation’s union supporters and vote no on divisive child-care unionization legislation that could significantly increase the cost of CCAP, a $207 million-a-year program. The legislation also appears to stack the odds in favor of a pro-union vote by child-care providers by unfairly excluding potentially thousands of licensed child-care providers from the election process.

AFSCME and other labor unions have pushed for years here and elsewhere to unionize providers as membership in labor unions nationally has dropped to a 97-year low: 11.3 percent of the American workforce. Proponents of the day-care bargaining bill claim it would improve day-care quality, training and safety by authorizing the union to negotiate with state officials for higher provider subsidies. AFSCME also seeks to provide health benefits to providers.

But the Minnesota legislation, championed by DFL lawmakers and introduced after a court ruling struck down executive action by Gov. Mark Dayton to allow a union vote by providers, would also clearly offer a lifeline for organized labor, which traditionally supports Democrats.

The legislation would provide a union membership boost and a steady stream of new dues conveniently collected from providers’ subsidies. Providers who receive subsidies but don’t want to join a union would still have to pay “fair share” fees for representation.

Given that unionization’s success involves the public paying more, it’s hard to see how this legislation — or a lesser-known proposal that would allow collective bargaining for some home health care workers — is good financial stewardship of taxpayer dollars in an era of persistent state budget challenges. Advocates of the legislation sometimes point to their success in Illinois in raising child-care provider payments. But that state’s daunting budget woes hardly inspire confidence that this is good policy for Minnesota.

The legislation’s convolution of the traditional worker-employer union model should also inspire skeptical, why-are-we-going-to-these-lengths questions.

Day care owners are small independent business owners. If the legislation becomes reality, this self-employed group becomes union workers. The union would negotiate subsidy rates with state officials, while legislators would still have to approve the contract. Providers also are barred from striking.

About 25 percent of the state’s estimated 11,000 licensed care providers receive subsidies in a given month, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Unlicensed child-care providers can also receive subsidies.

The fact that unlicensed providers would be able to vote in a unionization election, while licensed providers not participating in the subsidy program would be left out, has caused a rift in the state’s child-care community.

A recent survey of licensed providers showing scant support for collective bargaining has also raised concerns that many may withdraw from the program to avoid union dues or fees, pushing kids into less regulated settings.

Without question, quality day care is essential to Minnesota families and the state’s economy. A Pulitzer Prize-winning Star Tribune series recently raised serious questions about day-care “safe sleep” regulations, and legislators are moving to tighten lax regulations.

Collective bargaining would only have made that necessary reform effort more difficult, not easier.


An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Follow the editorial board: on Twitter  |  on Facebook   |  on Instagram | on Google+