Following an extraordinary overnight debate that is being called the longest in living memory, the Senate passed legislation Wednesday morning allowing child care providers and personal care assistant to join labor union . The controversial proposal carried by a 35-32 vote after 17 hours on the floor, and four DFL senators ultimately joined all Republicans in voting against it.
The legislation is a top priority of staunch DFL allies AFSCME Council 5 and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, which are seeking to organize the health care and child care providers. More than 20,000 low-paid workers could be affected by the legislation.
Republicans have pilloried the measure as an unnecessary government intrusion into the private marketplace that’s unwanted by the workers. “Listen to what people have been saying in your district,” said Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, during the debate. “Providers do not want this.”
Bill author Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, and her allies pointed out that the proposal would merely allow workers to determine if they want to collectively bargain. It does not authorize any specific union to represent workers or compel anyone to join a union against their will.
DFL Sens. Terri Bonoff (Minnetonka), Gregory Clausen (Apple Valley), Bev Scalze (Little Canada) and Melisa Franzen (Edina) voted against the proposal.
Republicans put forth more than two dozen amendments during the marathon debate. Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, offered an amendment that would have required that day care providers be licensed in order to be eligible for unionization. Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, proposed a change that would have required that any contract negotiations authorized by the legislation be carried out in public. Both amendments were rejected.
For much of the debate the Senate was under call, so DFL senators were forced to scurry back and forth from various conference committees in order to vote. At one point, Senate Minority Leader David Hann complained that some DFL senators weren’t available on the floor to answer questions. “I would like to implore that the majority at least consider having members available for questions,” Hann said.
After more than 16 hours of debate, the bill finally came up for a vote shortly after 8 a.m. on Wednesday. The GOP’s filibuster may have ultimately proved futile, but it prevented the House from taking up the bill on Wednesday as planned. It also gummed up the remaining legislative work of the DFL-controlled House and Senate with just a handful of days remaining before Monday’s constitutionally required adjournment. Most notably, the taxes conference committee did not meet at all on Tuesday despite a lengthy agenda.
Supporters of the union drive hailed the result. “Everyone wins when we come together and work together to improve our lives and profession,” said Lynn Barten, a child care provider in Alexandria, in a statement distributed by AFSCME Council 5. “It’s time to help Minnesota’s family child care providers do the same. Providers already do a great job taking care of our children, but a union will give us access to more training so we can do our jobs even better.”
The unionization bill faced a tortuous path to the Senate floor. In three different committees it advanced without a vote of support from members. In its final stop, the Finance Committee, the bill initially stalled on an 11-11 vote. But it was then advanced to the floor without recommendation on a second vote.
The bill can be taken up on the House floor as soon as Thursday.