Day care union vote: ‘We are in uncharted waters’

Rep. Andrea Kieffer

Questions abound two weeks before some Minnesota in-home day-care providers vote about whether to join unions.

Key among those questions is how many of the 11,000 in-home day-care providers will be allowed to vote. Also unanswered is whether anything the unions negotiate with the state will affect those who are not part of unions.

“We are in uncharted waters here,” Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, said Monday, because no one can recall a similar election in which private businesses are being asked to vote to form a union to negotiate with the state. “There still are a lot of questions.

Hoppe’s House Commerce Committee asked those questions Monday and got few answers. More than once, the Dayton administration official who will conduct the unionization vote was forced to punt.

Questions arose after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton last week ordered an election of state-registered and licensed day care providers, who take care of children in their homes and receive state subsidies.

The state Human Services Department figures 4,287 providers would be eligible to vote. Commissioner Josh Tilsen of the state Mediation Services Bureau, assigned the task of conducting the election, said his staff is double-checking the list.

However, opponents of the vote say that it is not fair for only 4,287 to vote; they say negotiations the unions will hold with the state could affect 11,000 day-care providers, including those that do not receive state subsidies.

Unions campaigning to win next month’s vote did not appear at Hoppe’s hearing, prompting the chairman to say he is looking into whether he can force them to appear at a future meeting. Hoppe said he wants questions answered before ballots are mailed out on Dec. 7 and returned by Dec. 21.

Leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Service Employees International Union sent the Commerce Committee a letter Sunday, saying union supporters want a better opportunity to learn things such as first aid, child abuse prevention and nutrition.

“Providers want a union because they want a strong voice to advocate and work with the state to improve the quality of child care, to create more opportunities for professional development and training for providers, to improve access for working parents and to stabilize their profession,” wrote AFSCME’s Eliot Seide and SEIU’s Carol Nieters.

The union leaders say the number of child-care providers has dropped from 18,000 to 11,000, a decline that has forced many parents to put their children in large child-care centers. Nieters and Seide say unionization would help reverse that trend.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said he understands why a union were not there: Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, plans to sue to stop the election. Atkins said that anything an election supporter said could be used in the upcoming court battle.

Hann and some Republicans on Hoppe’s committee question whether the state has a right to hold an election on the topic.

“It is not strictly under labor relations law,” Tilsen admitted.

Most of those testifying Monday opposed the election.

“I’m not for union intervention in my business,” Dinah Spurgin of Nicollet County told Hoppe’s committee.

She said that care providers could expect more red tape and to be forced to pass on higher costs to parents.

Spurgin questioned Dayton’s statements that whatever unions negotiate will not affect other providers.

Tilsen agreed that anyone affected by provider-state talks should have a vote next month.

Katy Chase of the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association urged Dayton to “retract and revise” the executive order. While her group would support the outcome of a vote involving all 11,000 providers, Chase said it would not support a vote of a fraction of that.

“A fair vote of a true majority will resolve this issue,” she said.

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