Child care providers consider legal options in response to upcoming union electionWhile 11 Minnesota in-home child-care providers filed a lawsuit to block a vote ordered by Governor Dayton, local providers opposed to unionizing are still considering their options.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
ST. PAUL – Becky Swanson says she fears she will lose her voice with state officials if fellow day care providers vote to unionize.
If a majority of 4,300 Minnesota in-home day care providers vote to join unions, Swanson said, the unions probably would take over all negotiations.
“I’m a small-business owner,” the Dakota County day care operator for 10 children said Monday in announcing she and 10 other child care providers are suing to prevent the vote.
Backed by a coalition of politically conservative groups, attorney Tom Revnew said his clients seek an injunction to stop the election, set to begin next week.
Ballots asking day care workers if they want to join unions are to be sent out on Dec. 7. They will be given two weeks to return the ballots. Only returned ballots will be counted in the election, and majority vote of those returned ballots will decide the issue.
“There is no state authority to allow Gov. Dayton to order this election,” Revnew said.
Union elections, Revnew added, are for employees, not for people who own and operate in-home day care businesses.
Locally, Cloquet’s Heather Falk, who has worked against the unionizing efforts for more than five years, is not a part of the lawsuit, although she is part of a different coalition of child care providers working with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation on a possible companion lawsuit.
“We’re trying to stay non-partisan,” Falk said, referring to the backing from conservative political groups for the current lawsuit.
Carlton County has approximately 70 in-home child care providers, but only close to half that number will even receive ballots under the terms of Dayton’s order. That’s because the governor’s order states that ballots will only be sent to providers who receive state subsidies for low-income clients.
Falk said the fact that only 4,287 providers out of 11,000 in the state are allowed to vote is unfair, because any changes to state law negotiated by a new union would affect all 11,000 providers, whether they pay union dues or not.
Swanson made a similar point. State officials now listen to her, Swanson said, but if unions are involved she fears other day care providers would be ignored.
It’s not only child care providers who are considering legal action.
The powerful Senate Rules Committee plans to discuss the issue Thursday morning, potentially starting its own court action. Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, has threatened to sue over Dayton’s order.
A representative of one of the two unions pushing for the vote said the legal action was just a ploy by “cheap-labor conservatives.”
“Voters in this election include only licensed, subsidized providers who have a direct financial relationship with the state of Minnesota,” said Eric Lehto, organizing director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5. “It is this direct community of interest that makes them an appropriate bargaining unit.”
Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said in a letter that unions would negotiate with her in some cases, but she would remain open to hearing from other day care-related groups.
Katy Chase, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association – an organization that advocates for providers and offers a number of different training programs and more – sent a letter to the governor asking that he include all in-home child care providers in the vote.
AFSCME and the Service Employees International Union have tried for six years to gain permission to allow Minnesotans who care for children in their homes to join unions. The effort went nowhere under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but Democrat Dayton issued an executive order to allow the election less than a year into his term.
Union supporters say their effort would open the door for more pay and benefits for day care providers and improve child care.
Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority said his organization is providing some funding for the court action because the group is interesting in stopping “government overreach.”
The lawsuit seeks to stop the election, as well as declaring Dayton’s order to be void.
Also contributing to this story was Don Davis, reporter for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Pine Journal.