Judge: Dayton could have avoided union vote lawsuit

A judge deciding the fate of a child care providers’ union election said Wednesday that Gov. Mark Dayton could have avoided a lawsuit by conducting a less formal survey.

Ramsey County District Court Judge Dale Lindman told Dayton attorneys that the governor only needed to call a commissioner and ask them to survey child care providers to see if they want unions to represent them.

“He still could,” Lindman said.

Instead of the unofficial survey the judge suggested, Dayton ordered a state-conducted election of child care workers who provide care in their homes and receive state subsidies.

However, on Dec. 5 Lindman temporarily stopped the election, saying the proposal needed legislative approval. The judge strongly hinted at the time that the election had little chance of passing his muster and on Wednesday his questions indicated his mind had not changed.

Lindman did not indicate when he would decide if he will permanently ban the election.

Union attorney Gregg Corwin warned in court that the judge’s election stoppage could be overturned in an appeals court. He complained that “this court is ignoring” other states and two appeals courts’ decisions to establish an election like Dayton wants.

Corwin disputed the judge’s assertion that the governor was usurping the Legislature’s job in ordering the election.

“It is the court which is legislating … and interfering with the executive branch,” Corwin told Lindman.

“It was never my intent to usurp the governor’s power,” the judge responded. “I wouldn’t have his job.”

Corwin represents the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of two unions that have worked six years to organize self-employed in-home child care workers to negotiate with the state.

Attorney Thomas Revnew, representing child care workers who oppose Dayton’s order, said the election violates the Constitution’s provision separating executive, judicial and legislative powers.

One of the child care workers opposed to the election, Heather Falk of Cloquet, said she was surprised by some statements she heard in the St. Paul courtroom.

“I couldn’t believe the untruthfulness coming from some of them,” she said about lawyers supporting Dayton’s action.

Falk agreed with the judge that Dayton could have avoided the lawsuit. When she and others met with the governor before he ordered the election, they suggested that he do a survey of providers.

Dayton in November ordered a December vote about whether people who care for children in their homes want to join unions. Only those receiving state subsidies would get ballots.

Opponents claim that accepting votes from just 4,300 Minnesotans who receive state subsidies to care for children in their own homes was shutting off the voices of nearly 7,000 other in-home day care providers.

Dayton, on the other hand, has said: “I continue to believe that in a democracy, people should have rights to elections to determine their own destinies.”

The anti-vote lawsuit was backed by several conservative organizations and some day care owners.

Judge puts brakes on day care union vote, at least for now

A Minnesota day care provider vote to join unions is least temporarily on hold.

A judge Monday ordered a stop to an election that was to begin Wednesday. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton last month ordered the vote, which two unions have sought for six years.

Ramsey County District Court Judge Dale Lindman issued a temporary restraining order and said that the proposal should go through the Legislature, not be ordered by a governor.

Dayton said he would meet with Attorney General Lori Swanson before deciding how to proceed.

Lindman set a Jan. 16 hearing before he makes his final decision on the issue.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, was happy with the decision after saying for three months that the executive order would overstep Dayton’s legal authority.

Hann, calling Dayton’s order a “very political effort,” said the judge’s comments Monday make it likely that his permanent order next year will forbid an election.

Opponents to the Dayton vote argued that day care providers, who own their own businesses, cannot join unions as employees can. They also said that accepting votes from just 4,300 Minnesotans who receive subsidies to care for children in their own homes was shutting off the voices of nearly 7,000 other in-home day care providers.

While Hann liked Lindman’s comments that the issue belonged in the Legislature, he offered supporters little hope. “Just because they belong in the Legislature doesn’t mean we are going to do it.”

Dayton said he respects the court decision, and said the judge “was clear that I did not misuse my authority in issuing the executive order.”

But the governor still supports a vote: “I continue to believe that in a democracy, people should have rights to elections to determine their own destinies.”

Senate Republicans backed the lawsuit by 11 day care providers who oppose unionization.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union have tried for six years to unionize in-home day care providers. They claim a union would give day care providers a greater say when dealing with state agencies about subsidy rates and other issues governing in-home day care.

The suit was backed by several conservative organizations, including the Freedom Foundation.

“Minnesota’s family child care providers have been asking for a voice in St. Paul since 2005,” said SEUI Executive Director Carol Nieters. “Now, on the eve of their opportunity to choose a representative for meetings to support vital and threatened state programs, conservative corporate interests from the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota and their lapdogs in the Minnesota state Legislature have succeeded in throwing a wrench into the wheels of democracy.”

The Freedom Foundation says day care providers just want to be left alone.

“Today’s developments are great news for the scores of child care providers from across Minnesota who have worked tirelessly to preserve their independence and fight against a coercive and intrusive unionization scheme by the governor and labor unions.” Freedom Foundation leader Annette Meeks said on Monday.

“I’m jumping for joy,” said Hollee Saville, a provider from St. Michael and participant in the lawsuit. “I’m so excited I’m thinking about letting my kids skip nap time.”

Day care provider Jennifer Parrish of Rochester, a leader of an anti-vote coalition, said those on her side now must let legislators know that small businesses such as hers should not “be forced under the umbrella of union representation.”

The Dayton order that the judge halted required ballots to be mailed out Wednesday and returned within two weeks to determine whether day care unions would be allowed.