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Daycare unionization drive put on hold by court ruling

Paul Demko//September 20, 2013

Daycare unionization drive put on hold by court ruling

Paul Demko//September 20, 2013

Rep. Mary Franson (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)
Rep. Mary Franson (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction on Thursday halting implementation of a state law authorizing roughly 12,000 childcare providers that receive state subsidies to seek union representation.

The court did not rule on the constitutionality of the law, but rather determined that it should be stayed until the U.S. Supreme Court decides if it will take up an Illinois  lawsuit raising similar issues.

Opponents of the daycare unionization law, which was passed earlier this year after a pitched legislative debate, hailed the decision.

“Today’s ruling from the federal appeals court is the first step to remedy the injustice done by Democrats to the hardworking childcare providers and parents of Minnesota,” said Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, in a statement. “As a mom and former childcare provider, I know firsthand we don’t need big union bosses increasing costs and creating fewer options for the care of our precious children.”

But AFSCME Council 5, the union seeking to organize childcare workers, dismissed the ruling as a technicality. “It’s just a temporary road bump that doesn’t stop us from organizing,” said AFSCME Council 5 spokeswoman Jennifer Munt.  “We’re moving full-speed ahead because child care providers want a union.”

The lawsuit was filed by childcare providers seeking to thwart implementation of the law. They argue that it violates their First Amendment rights by forcing them to be represented by the union and pay dues. Union supporters counter that the law merely allows childcare workers to vote on whether they want union representation.

In July, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis initially sided with the union. He ruled that the claim of damages was not yet ripe since the purported injuries had not yet occurred.

But attorneys for the plaintiffs appealed that decision as erroneous. “The providers will effectively be forced to accept a State-appointed lobbyist to lobby the State over a public assistance program that may affect their child care businesses,” the appellate motion reads. “It is difficult to envision a more egregious infringement on the providers’ right to choose with whom they associate to petition government.”

The Illinois case, Harris v. Quinn, has been before the Supreme Court since 2011. It involves an Illinois law that allows personal care assistants who are paid with Medicaid dollars to seek union representation. Lower courts determined that the law was constitutionally valid. The same attorney, William Messenger, of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, is representing the plaintiffs in the Minnesota and Illinois cases.

Minnesota’s law similarly allows personal care assistants to join unions. But that provision has proven less controversial and is not targeted by the lawsuit currently before the appellate court.

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