Legislation that would give day care workers and personal care assistants a path to unionization passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Policy Committee on Monday after lengthy testimony and numerous amendments. But in a sign that the issue is causing some consternation in DFL ranks, the bill was passed without recommendation on a 5-4 vote and referred to the Judiciary Committee. (The vote fell along party lines, with two DFLers absent.)
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, seeks to allow roughly 9,000 licensed and unlicensed child care workers and personal care attendants (PCAs) who receive public subsidies to vote on whether they want to join public employee unions.
When the bill passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee earlier this session, both day care providers and personal care assistants were covered in the same piece of legislation. But in the House, provisions regarding day care workers and personal care assistants are still traveling in separate bills. The day care bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, is awaiting a hearing in the Labor, Workplace and Regulated Industries Committee. Nelson is also carrying the House PCA bill, which is in the Civil Law Committee. He told Capitol Report the two bills will likely be merged to mirror the Senate bill. The day care issue in particular has been a lightning rod for conservatives, and the pairing of the two proposals appears to complicate the PCA measure’s chances of passing.
Nelson, who plans to pass the proposal out of House policy committees by the Friday’s policy bill deadline, acknowledged the political difficulties in combining the proposals. “It makes it tougher,” he said. “[But] they both basically address the same issue, which is to get these groups the chance to unionize.”
Public employee unions have revived their push for unionization after they ran into opposition in the previous Republican-controlled Legislature and setbacks in the courts. Gov. Mark Dayton, whose 2010 campaign received strong backing from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5, attempted through executive order to give child care workers the ability to hold a vote on unionizing. A Ramsey County judge, however, ruled in favor of a legal action brought by opponents of the move, who said that Dayton was exceeding his authority.
Pricing families out of the market?
Now that political power in the House and Senate rests with the DFL, the issue is again moving toward Dayton’s desk. But, as this week’s Senate hearing indicated, DFLers also are raising questions about possible consequences of the unionization.
One of the reasons for unionizing, Pappas said, is to establish a position of strength in negotiating the rates for the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which that subsidizes the costs of day care for families.
If a higher rate is agreed upon, Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Chair Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said she’s concerned that could result in fewer families receiving child care.
If the rate that the state pays for CCAP increases, it could mean that the state either needs to increase funding for child care or that fewer families would receive financial assistance for child care.
“The idea that the negotiation will drive the Legislature to increase the overall pool, I think, is the hope of the union negotiations, but I don’t think there’s any history to suggest that we can be assured that will happen,” Sheran told Capitol Report. “So we have to understand the high possibility that there will be fewer families having access to child care.”
Sheran is also concerned about having unlicensed providers in the legislation. She supported an amendment to remove the unlicensed providers from the bill, which failed on a tie vote.
Advocates on both sides of the issue turned out supporters to make their case during Monday’s hearing.
Advocates tussle in committee
Marilyn Geller, who provides day care services in northern Minnesota, said unionizing would reshape the profession’s image as a well-trained workforce.
“What we are asking for in obtaining collective bargaining rights,” Geller said, “is the right to be recognized as professionals who want to be part of guiding this profession in a positive, constructive direction, and [to] allow each child care provider the opportunity to grow in education and training in order to prepare our young children for the world.”
Opponents frequently testified that providers often work independently out of their homes, unlike union members who work in offices or factories. In a pointed critique of the bill, John Rouleau, executive director of the conservative Minnesota Majority, charged that the unions are merely seeking dues.
“To put it simply, one group wants a cut of the money that another group makes, and our government is actually seriously considering this,” Rouleau said.
The move to pass the bill without recommendation out of the Senate Health committee is a tactic that often points to deep divisions over the fate of a proposal. Going forward, it leaves committee members in a position to say they voted to move the bill forward while still expressing reservations.
Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, who made the motion, said after the hearing that the committee was veering toward issues that were more germane for the Judiciary Committee, which made it appropriate to conclude the committee’s business.
“I think we should let the process work,” Hoffman said. “Frankly, I said it makes sense to move the bill along to Judiciary.”