Controversial Daycare Union Drive Reaches Governor's Office

More questions surface over union tactics in organizing drive

ST. PAUL, MN--Daycare providers opposed to unionization of their work force who recently met with key members of Governor Dayton’s staff left the meeting concerned it may only be a matter of when, not if, the governor will issue an executive order paving the way for statewide union representation of Minnesota’s more than 11,000 childcare providers.

“The impression we went away with was they were just looking at the best way to make this happen. I think that’s where they’re at now, trying to figure out how to do it,” said Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester daycare provider and leading opponent of unionization.

For more than five years, Minnesota daycare providers have been met at the door of their businesses by Child Care Providers Together-AFSCME and SEIU-Kids First representatives collecting signatures on cards indicating support for a union. A previous report by the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota revealed concerns raised by some anti-union providers who said they were misled by some organizers about the purpose of the cards. Some demanded their cards back.

At the August 17 meeting with Governor Dayton’s staff in St. Paul, an influential statewide daycare provider organization that is neutral on the issue of unionization, raised concerns with the governor’s staff over the organizing drive to collect signatures from more than fifty percent of childcare providers statewide.

"Our concern has been on the process, and the process is possibly not showing what the majority of providers want," said Katy Chase, Executive Director of the Minnesota Licensed Family Childcare Association(MLFCCA) . "We've had multiple reports of individuals signing cards thinking they were only for more information."

While underscoring her organization’s neutral position on the union drive, Chase informed Dayton Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs Michelle Kelm-Helgen the MFLCCA supports a secret ballot vote to determine support for unionization to ensure a fair and accurate process. "We are supporting a majority vote, instead of only using cards," Chase said.

Dakota County Chamber of Commerce president Ruthe Batulis also attended the capitol meeting. While childcare providers are not chamber members and the business organization takes no position on the union drive, Batulis said volunteers were “helping them start petitions in their own communities, and figure out strategies for spreading the word.”

The impetus for the unionization drive is providers who receive state subsidies for children of low-income families. In other states with childcare provider unions, dues are collected from state subsidies payments. It’s unclear whether non-subsidized providers, who say they account for the vast majority of Minnesota’s daycare workers, would have to pay fair share fees.

Besides having a 'political voice,' the possibility of pension and health care plans constitutes one of the arguments for the union. Just three of the 13 states with childcare unions offer a health plan, however, and in two of those states the provider must be receiving state subsidy checks in order to qualify. None of the states with daycare provider unions appears to offer a pension.

The governor’s office did not respond to an FFM request for comment. In an article on opposition to the union drive in Carlton County, Dayton press secretary Katharine Tinucci said the administration is in the process of assessing the issue but has not reached a decision on whether or not Governor Dayton will decide the issue by issuing an executive order. It should be noted that in addition to personal contributions made by influential union leaders, AFSME and SEIU PACS contributed $14,000 to Dayton’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Neither AFSCME nor SEIU responded to FFM requests for comment.

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                            Tips or comments? Contact Tom Steward at 612-354-2192.


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