For nearly six years, union officials have been working to build support for representing the state’s in-home day care providers. Now that campaign will come down to a one-month effort to convince roughly 4,300 small business owners that union representation is in their best interest.
Last week Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order directing the Bureau of Mediation Services to conduct a mail-in election to determine whether day care providers want to join AFSCME Council 5 and SEIU Kids First Local 284. Ballots must be returned by Dec. 20 in order to be counted. Only providers who receive state subsidies for taking care of poor children are eligible to vote.
In announcing the decision, Dayton argued that voting on the issue was the best way to resolve differences between pro- and anti-union factions. “I’ve heard from people who want to join the union — want to have that right — and I’ve heard from child care providers who are opposed to a union being formed,” Dayton said. “The question, then, is how do you resolve that — and I think the fairest way, the American way, is to hold an election and let the majority decide.”
But Republican legislative leaders immediately lambasted Dayton for issuing the order. They argue that the governor has overstepped his authority by ordering a union election for individuals who are not state employees and hope to block the vote from taking place through legal action. It’s not yet clear exactly when a lawsuit might be filed.
“I think it’s just obvious that what the governor’s doing is illegal,” said Sen. David Hann, chairman of his chamber’s Health and Human Services Committee. “This is just an example of the governor making up law.”
Hann further argues that the executive order is an unseemly reward for two unions that were among Dayton’s staunchest supporters during the 2010 gubernatorial contest. “This is to me an instance of political payback,” he charged. “You help us win elections; we’ll help you get a cut of taxpayer dollars.”
Katharine Tinucci, Dayton’s press secretary, points out that the unions wanted the governor to unilaterally authorize unionization through an executive order and that he rejected that course. She also notes that 13 other states already have unionized in-home day care providers.
Despite the threat of litigation, both sides will be proceeding under the assumption that the issue will be resolved before Christmas. The two unions are scurrying to visit as many day care providers as possible in the coming weeks to make their pitch. AFSCME’s organizing territory includes roughly 2,300 of the potential voters, while SEIU’s turf includes the remaining 2,000.
The child care union would be a somewhat novel arrangement in that wages for workers would not be negotiable. But union supporters argue that representation from AFSCME and SEIU would give them a stronger voice at the Capitol. They cite increased state subsidies, improved training opportunities and access to health insurance as areas in which union representation might make a difference.
Jennifer Munt, a spokeswoman for AFSCME Council 5, points out that the union can provide training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation to day care workers for just $30, compared with the normal cost of roughly $300 in the open market. “We’ve already built relationships with the providers who live in AFSCME’s jurisdiction,” Munt said. “We’ve been carrying on a six-year dialogue with these folks about their ideas for improving the affordability and quality of child care in Minnesota.”
Melissa Smith has run the Kiddie Korral day care business at her home in Prior Lake for a dozen years. She typically cares for eight to 10 children on any given weekday and supports unionization. Smith points out that five years ago, legislation was passed requiring child care providers to receive training in shaken-baby syndrome and sudden infant death syndrome. She says that many business owners didn’t learn about the change until just two months before the requirement went into effect and were left scrambling to get certified. She believes that union representation will allow providers to stay better informed about legislative changes and have better access to training opportunities.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Smith said of the election. “It sounds like this is what providers want. I think it’s awesome that Gov. Dayton gave us this opportunity to vote on it.”
But there is also a vigorous coalition of union opponents among the state’s in-home child care providers. Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester-based business owner, argues that some of the rules and regulations that might be subject to union negotiations would affect all 11,000 day care providers in the state — even though more than half of them won’t have a chance to vote in the election. “Just because I don’t have a child in the subsidy program right now doesn’t mean that it won’t affect me,” Parrish said. “Most of what they’re talking about doing, in fact, goes beyond the scope of the subsidy program.”
Parrish further believes that Dayton purposefully opted to limit voter eligibility to subsidized providers because that group is more inclined to support unionization. “Both the union and the governor are well aware that the support is not there if all 11,000 child care providers got to vote,” Parrish said. “They’re trying to get a foot in the door by choosing a small group of people who are most likely to vote yes.”
Parrish and her allies plan to spend the next month communicating with as many in-home providers as possible. They are trying to get a list of all individuals who are eligible to vote from the Department of Human Services so that they can produce a mailing. They are also discussing legal options with the assistance of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which has filed lawsuits in several other states over day care unionization efforts. But Parrish fears it will be difficult to get the attention of child care providers during the busy holiday season. “We have very little time,” she said. “This is basically being rammed through without any thorough process at all.”
Union officials point out that they have collected cards from more than half of the 11,000 providers in the state indicating support for unionization and that a third party has verified their legitimacy. They argue that it’s time for a resolution to the six-year campaign. “It’s about time to get this done,” said Carol Nieters, executive director of SEIU Kids First Local 284. “I don’t know that anybody would benefit from delaying this any further.”