Home Providers Warn of New Union Drive

     They fought off a six year long unionization drive by AFSCME and SEIU, overturned in court an executive order by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and successfully supported the passage of legislation (vetoed by Dayton) prohibiting union dues from being deducted from state child care subsidy payments.

Not bad for a loosely knit group of small business owners struggling to call attention to an issue that even political insiders hadn’t heard of at this time a year ago, when the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota first reported concerns over coerced unionization among the state’s 11,300 licensed family child care providers.

Today they still go by an ad hoc name, “Coalition of Child Care Providers”, a decentralized group that crosses political party, comprised by a core leadership group of nearly one dozen women scattered across the Minnesota.

Despite prevailing against politically powerful unions and Minnesota’s top elected official, however, they aren't taking anything for granted, other than the reality that home-based private providers remain more vulnerable than ever to the same forces and tactics.

“Governor Dayton made it clear that it is his intent to make this a legislative issue next session. The fight to remain independent is far from over,” warns a recent coalition email sent to thousands of Minnesota licensed family child care providers.

Last week Dayton ruled out filing an appeal of the Ramsey County District Court decision striking down his November 2011 executive order authorizing a union vote among about 4,300 home child care providers who care for state subsidized clients. Yet in the process, Dayton reiterated his view that the case for unionizing licensed home-based child care providers is far from closed.

“Although I strongly disagree with the Court’s decision, I will not appeal it. I will work toward electing a new legislature, which will support the right of working people to decide for themselves whether or not they want to join a union,” said Dayton in a statement.

“They’re pretty desperate. Look at what happened in Wisconsin,” said Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester provider who opposes unionization. “I think people are at the point where they’re not as interested in unions as they used to be. The need for unions isn’t what it used to be and with the loss of members goes the loss of dues money. So this is a really easy way to have some guaranteed income and boost their membership.”

One of the unions behind the organizing drive, AFSCME Child Care Providers Together, has already signaled its intention to continue the to pursue unionization.

“Governor Dayton respects our democratic right to decide for ourselves whether or not we want a union. Every day we wait makes us one day stronger,” said Lisa Thompson of AFSCME Council 5 in a statement. “We’ve already united to increase the qualilty of child care, to improve access for working parents, and to stabilize our profession. Any judge or legislator who tries to stop that is hurting the families who depend on us to keep their kids healthy, learning and safe.”

With the entire legislature up for election in November, child care union opponents are urging private child care providers to attend town hall meetings, find out where candidates stand, and hold workshops to educate other providers and the public on the issue.

“Based on what we’ve seen in other states and on what the union has said, it’s going to be a legislative issue as early as next session,” said Parrish. “It’s just a matter of being organized enough so that when this does come to the legislature that we’re ready for it and can continue to fend it off.”

The Coalition of Child Care Providers has warned providers statewide that union information cards they previously signed and returned to the union may be used by AFSCME and SEIU “as a signal of support” at the state legislature. The coalition recommended providers write to the unions to request their card back if they did not mean to support unionization. The statewide email also warns that more union “door knockers” may show up at their home-based business and not to “sign anything without reading it carefully.”  

Currently, seven states have active child care unions (Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington). Nine states have repealed unionization or no longer enforce a prior executive order (Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin).

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