Governor to put union vote in hands of subsidized child care providersCloquet in-home child care provider Heather Falk said Gov. Mark Dayton has “opened Pandora’s box” with his announcement Tuesday that he will order a vote by the state’s subsidized child care providers on whether they want a union representing them.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Cloquet in-home child care provider Heather Falk said Gov. Mark Dayton has “opened Pandora’s box” with his announcement Tuesday that he will order a vote by the state’s subsidized child care providers on whether they want a union representing them.
The decision didn’t come as a surprise, however. Falk, who opposes the unionization of child care providers, said she and the 12 other provider-members of the statewide Child Care Coalition received word from the governor’s office last Tuesday that he wanted to meet with them on Thursday. Members of the group traveled to the Capitol to meet with him Thursday evening with the hope, Falk said, of asking him “where he is sitting [on the issue of allowing unionizing child care providers] and asking him what he wanted from us.”
Dayton was apparently not there on a fact-finding mission, however. Falk said he laid out his proposed move to put the union vote to Minnesota’s subsidized child care providers as “the fairest way, and the American way, to settle this dispute.”
Dayton told Falk and her group that this would be a small starting point and could be expanded in the future.
“A small start could lead to something much bigger in the future,” said Falk.
While no one would be forced to join a union, Falk argued that decisions that unions and the state make could affect all providers by offering members “exclusive bargaining rights” on such issues as licensing, laws, grants and proprietary control over the Quality Rating and Improvement System, which she said was originally put together by a number of other organizations.
“I am very disappointed,” said Falk the day after the governor’s plan was made public. “If membership in a union would be completely voluntary, as the governor has said, then why have an election at all?”
Falk admits that one of the reasons she is opposed to unionized child care is because of the “bullying and lies” she and others have experienced over the past six years that the union debate has been under way, saying past experiences have led to an overall lack of trust in the union and its motives.
“The union and Dayton claim this will help stabilize the industry,” said Falk, “but the other states where the union has taken over have lost providers by the thousands. Many providers here in Minnesota have also stated they would leave child care if this goes through.”
On the opposite side of the fence are some Minnesotans who run day care centers in their homes who have asked for the right to unionize, citing their low wages and poor working conditions. They say that being in a union would give them a stronger voice in the Capitol.
“Providers who choose to join together in a union will gain a strong voice to work with the state to increase the quality of child care ... and to stabilize our profession,” said Clarissa Johnson, a Mounds View child care provider.
Dayton said they asked him to unilaterally order union representation. However, he said, the American way is to conduct an election, with ballots to be mailed Dec. 6 and vote results will be announced Dec. 21.
Immediately after Dayton’s announcement, a pair of Senate Republicans challenged the legality of a governor making such a decision and promised they would take him to court.
“Our reading of current law makes clear that private, home-based child care providers are not public employers or employees and therefore do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Mediation Services and are not subject to public employee labor relations law,” Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, said.
Dayton’s order limits the ability to join unions to licensed home day care providers that receive state subsidies. That could be up to 4,300 out of 11,000 day care providers,
His order indicates there has been a troubling decline in the number of home day care providers.
For unions to be allowed to represent home day care providers, more than half must vote for the action. Even then, Dayton said, no provider is required to join or pay dues.
Republicans said the executive order amounts to giving the right to decide child care provider pay to unions, taking it away from the legislature.
David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he expects to quickly go to court to stop the election. Hann, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee chairman, could not say whether the Senate, Republican lawmakers or someone else would pay for the court action.
Dayton said his lawyer saw no legal problems with the order, but Attorney General Lori Swanson has not issued a definitive opinion. A Senate lawyer testified earlier this fall that there is no law that allows Dayton to issue the order, and that it is questionable whether the Constitution gives him the authority.
In the meantime, Falk said members of the Child Care Coalition are considering a lawsuit of their own – against
“We’re still looking into a lot of issues,” said Falk, “but right now it looks like we’ll be going to court.”
She said the group has talked with a number of organizations who have expressed interest in helping to back the expense of a court challenge, and she added state Republicans have also broached the idea of having their lawyers work together in challenging the election.
If the vote succeeds, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Service Employees International Union plan to split up the state, with AFSCME taking most of the northern two-thirds of the state and SEIU the southern areas.
Jana Peterson of the Pine Journal and Don Davis of the State Capitol Bureau of Forum Communications Co. contributed to this story.