Union prepares for childcare voteMinnesota’s largest public employee union is moving ahead with plans to organize childcare providers who receive state subsidies after a federal judge tossed out a pair of lawsuits seeking to stop the vote.
By: Don Davis, Pine Journal
ST. PAUL <\_> Minnesota’s largest public employee union is moving ahead with plans to organize childcare providers who receive state subsidies after a federal judge tossed out a pair of lawsuits seeking to stop the vote.
But officials of AFSCME Council 5 have no prediction about when it could hold an election to authorize childcare workers joining the union.
“Right now we are busy visiting with 12,700 child care providers...” AFSCME spokeswoman Jennifer Munt said Monday. “That will take some time.”
Munt and other union officials were happy that federal Judge Michael Davis on Sunday dismissed two lawsuits by unionization opponents.
“Their claim is not ripe," Davis wrote, leaving the door open to lawsuits after childcare workers join the union, if an election allows unionization.
Union opponents could appeal the Davis ruling and said they were ready to continue the legal battle later.
“While the judge’s ruling was disheartening, it was far from upholding the Democrats’ childcare unionization law,” Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said. “In two of the major claims brought by childcare providers, the judge stated it was simply too early and too speculative to rule on the merits of the case at this point in the process.”
Both sides agreed with one Franson comment: “It’s clear that this is going to be a long fight in court.”
Allowing the providers to join unions was pushed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and members of his party who control both chambers of the Legislature. They say allowing people who own home-based childcare centers and receive state subsidies would get a greater say when negotiating rates and rules with state officials.
Opponents argue that nothing the union would negotiate could be final since the Legislature would make the final decisions. They also say that childcare providers are business owners who should not be part of unions, which are for employees.
Cloquet childcare provider Addie Clyde is a plaintiff in one of the dismissed lawsuits, which argued the legislation violates the providers’ constitutional right of free association. Clyde explained that the measure passed by the Legislature gave the union “exclusive rights” to represent childcare providers who receive state subsidies for income-qualified clients.
“We’re saying that we should have the right to go to bat for ourselves or to talk to any [existing] state or county association to represent us,” Clyde said. “We should have the right to choose who speaks for us, whether that’s me or someone else.”
AFSCME is in the process of meeting the first requirement of a law passed as this year’s legislative session wound down: collect 500 signatures from potential members who may be interested in joining a union. Then, the union would be required to provide the state with cards signed by 30 percent of the nearly 13,000 childcare providers who the state subsidizes for taking on children from low-income families.
Carlton County has approximately 70 in-home childcare providers, but only close to half that number would receive ballots because ballots will only be sent to providers who receive state subsidies for low-income clients.
If the state approves the signatures, an election would be held about whether to establish the union.
No childcare provider would be required to join. However, because of the Minnesota Fair Share law, providers would have to pay, whether they joined the union or not.
Munt said the law gives her union three years to get through all the red tape, but she would not estimate when an election could be scheduled.
“We will not file those cards until we are certain we can win an election,” Munt said.
If an election allows a union, Munt said that AFSCME would negotiate a contract with the state, which would be put up to a vote by childcare providers who joined the union.
Once a contract is approved, Munt said, union dues would be established.
Originally, AFSCME was going to concentrate on the state’s largest counties, as well as those in northern Minnesota. The Service Employees International Union, which wanted to represent childcare providers in the rest of the state, opted to concentrate on organizing personal care attendants statewide, leaving AFSCME all state-subsidized childcare providers.
Pine Journal Editor Jana Peterson contributed to this story.