There is a sneaky union election going on in Minnesota right now that has even fans of public employee unions shaking their heads. If the union wins, a small group of business owners will be able to collectively bargain as “state employees” against their regulator over a state subsidy their customers use to buy their services, and over licensing regulations.

Did you follow that? It gets worse.

The state is not really the employer of these small business owners and they are not really state employees. The majority never asked to be in a union. In fact, they have formed grass-roots associations to fight the union effort. But if the union wins, it can collect taxpayer funds, which is actually the whole point.

Allow me to explain.

In 2013, the DFL legislative majority passed, and Gov. Mark Dayton signed, a bill allowing unionization of certain home-based child care providers. The rationale for declaring these providers “state employees” is a state subsidy called the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) that aims to help low-income parents, often single moms, become self-reliant.

At the end of 2015, AFSCME (American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees) finished its extensive fieldwork identifying “Yes” votes and filed with the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) to organize child care providers who serve CCAP kids. A simple majority of “Yes” ballots will win the election for AFSCME.

Many providers have raised questions about the process and called on Dayton to halt the election. But the solution is not a do-over or a better process. The solution is an outright repeal of the 2013 law.

The 2016 legislative session, which begins March 8, is an opportunity for legislators to reverse this terrible idea before it does more damage.

Since Dayton began this campaign, the number of registered CCAP providers has fallen from 13,764 in 2010 to just 4,750 in 2015. And the total number of licensed providers has dropped, too. This means all working parents who prefer in-home child care have fewer options. This is especially hard for CCAP moms who have fewer options, period.

Critics say that BMS erred when the voter list was compiled, resulting in too few providers getting a ballot. Ballots were sent only to the 2,348 providers who got a CCAP payment in December 2015. I have talked to CCAP providers who had children in their care in December who did not get ballots. One bills Dakota County every other month, so she got paid in November and January. Others in Wright County got a letter saying the program had run out of funds, so their payment would be delayed. They also did not get ballots.

Other problems, including with ballot secrecy, have been raised. Return envelopes are stamped with a number that corresponds to the voter list. Some providers, to protect their identity, blacked out the number, which could get the ballot tossed out.

Dayton has said: “Why not let there be an election and why not let the workers decide for themselves? That to me is the American way to proceed.”

First, these are not “workers.” Family child care providers are independent business owners. Second, “the American way” is for elections to allow affected parties to vote. This election is a sham. Most providers will not get a vote even though they will be affected by any contract AFSCME negotiates with the state.

AFSCME, along with Education Minnesota and other DFL affiliates, dominate spending by outside groups in Minnesota elections. The passage of this 2013 law confirmed the corrupting power of public unions.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to tie this back to the governor’s demand for universal pre-K, which would produce 3,000 new union jobs. Several providers, convinced Dayton wants to put them out of business, told me that if AFSCME wins, they will stop taking CCAP kids. CCAP moms would then have to send younger children to pricier day care centers where employees can be unionized by SEIU, and older kids to school-based preschool programs.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board has called on legislators to reject this diversion of public dollars, noting that “subsidy dollars belong in provider pockets, not union coffers.” Noting that $8 of every $25 collected in monthly dues would go to the national union, a 2013 Star Tribune editorial asked, “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?”



Kim Crockett is vice president at Center of the American Experiment and director of its Employee Freedom Project.