The emotional issue of unionizing in-home child care providers filled a Senate hearing room Thursday night with a plea for respect from union advocates and concerns about costs and control from those who oppose it.

"The image of the provider as a baby sitter has not moved as far as we thought," said Clarissa Johnston, a child care provider in Mounds View who believes a union will provide respect and dignity. "This is a defining movement for us. If the union goes away, family child-care providers' 15 minutes of fame will fade."

Jackie Harrington, a child care provider in Rochester, said, "The effort to unionize is neither legal nor ethical." She expressed fears that home-based small-business owners will lose their independence if the field is unionized.

The joint hearing of the State Government Innovation and Health and Human Services committees came in response to a union campaign aimed at licensed family child-care providers. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union are seeking recognition. The state's more than 11,000 providers are divided on the issue.

The unions hoped Gov. Mark Dayton would recognize the child care unions by executive order once they obtained signed authorization cards from a majority of the providers. Dayton said he will not do that but is considering whether the issue should go to a statewide vote among providers.

Supporters said unionization would offer providers a greater voice in licensing and subsidy debates. Foes say a union model does not work for home-based workers who negotiate rates with parents.

"I advocate for myself," said Heather Falk of Carleton County, who opposes unionization. "We are a different kind of business ... and we will require a different kind of union," said union supporter Lisa Thompson of St. Paul.

Co-chair Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he doubts the governor has the authority to authorize an election among providers. If Dayton did so, Hann said, "I would consider that an unlawful act."

Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042