Legislative Notebook: Care Provider Union Debate Sets Senate Record

By Don Davis

Minnesota senators set a modern-day record for debating a single bill Tuesday night and Wednesday morning before voting to give childcare providers and personal care attendants the right to unionize.

The bill passed 35-32 a little after 8 a.m. Wednesday, concluding 17 hours of constant debate.

“It just gives this group of workers, that don’t have the right to have a vote, an opportunity to decide if they can form a union and form a bargaining unit so that they can bargain for some of the things that my union card has provided for me,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

The bill would allow for an election among providers if unions meet certain thresholds of support. If childcare providers and personal care attendants decided to join unions, they could negotiate with the state and would have to pay union dues.

The unions would negotiate state payment levels.

Republicans argued that the providers are private businesses that do not need to be unionized, and should not be unionized.

Four Democratic senators joined Republicans in voting against the bill.

“Union special interests were listened to over moms today,” said Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake. “This bill will make childcare more expensive for families and taxpayers.”

Republicans presented dozens of amendments in an attempt to water down the measure.

“Today, the DFL members of the Minnesota Senate gave childcare providers the right to vote for a union,” Alexandria childcare provider Lynn Barten said. “Everyone wins when we come together and work together to improve our lives and profession.”

Childcare provider Marilyn Geller of Bemidji said the vote showed that Democratic senators “acknowledged that we are smart women who deserve the right to vote to join a union.”

“With a union, providers will be able to negotiate with the state for better reimbursement rates, which will keep costs down for providers and parents. It’s simple, providers can’t work for less and parents can’t pay more,” Geller said.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said the Democratic-Farmer-Labor argument does not make sense because if unions negotiate a certain state subsidy for childcare workers and personal care attendants, the higher pay is not automatic. The state Legislature still would need to appropriate the money.

The House could debate the union bill Saturday.

‘Ban box’ bill ready

A bill prohibiting employers from asking job applicants about criminal history awaits Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature.

Supporters say the “ban the box” bill gives people second chances.

“As Americans we believe in second chances and we believe that work is redemptive,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said. “This is a victory for Minnesota. This bill makes it possible for thousands of parents who have made a mistake and paid their price to one day get a job, get their children out of foster care, and pull their lives and their families back together.”

Jeff Martin of the Minnesota-Dakota NAACP State Conference said that once the bill is law, employers “will have access to a labor pool that fully represents what is available in Minnesota, rather than a filtered down version.”

Invasive species fight gets money

The University of Minnesota’s Aquatic Invasive Species Center will get $8.7 million to help fight aquatic invasive species.

A law Gov. Mark Dayton has signed appropriates those funds to the center as part of a $38 million overall outdoors spending bill with funds gained from the state lottery.

Also in the bill is $3 million to continue grants for land conservation and $1 million for acquiring land for trails and property adjoining state parks.

No more formaldehyde

A newly signed law bans formaldehyde from children’s products.

Things such as shampoo, lotion and bubble bath now may contain the toxic substance, but they will not be allowed to be on store shelves after Aug. 1, 2015.