Day care providers express union concerns

MARSHALL – A bill that would allow in-home child care providers in Minnesota to form a union is being considered in the state Legislature, but several local care providers say they’re afraid it would do more harm than good.

Concerns ranging from the cost of union fees to possible increases in regulations are leading them to speak to state lawmakers.

“There is nobody I’ve talked to who wants it,” said Jen Shaffer, a child care provider in Marshall.

Shaffer was one of a group of Lyon County child care providers who met with Rep. Chris Swedzinski last week to voice concerns on the bill. Shaffer and Lori Coleman, another local child care provider, said about 10 people met with Swedzinski.

“We are looking out for not just our businesses, but for families,” Shaffer said.

Two bills, one in the Minnesota House and one in the Senate, would allow in-home child care providers to form a union. In particular, the bill would affect providers who receive state money from the Child Care Assistance Program. The program helps low-income families pay for child care.

Under the bills, a child care union could be formed in either of two ways. Either a majority of chid care providers need to indicate through a petition or union authorization cards that they want to form a union, or at least 30 percent of providers would need to call for an election on the matter.

The union bills mark the second time in the past few years that the issue has been in the spotlight. In 2011, Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order calling for a union vote for child care providers in Minnesota. But a Ramsey County judge stopped the effort, ruling it unconstitutional.

Shaffer and Coleman said they’ve heard arguments that a union would be able to help child care providers get more affordable insurance, or provide a voice to bargain with the state. But Shaffer said in-home child care providers are self-employed. There are also groups, like the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association, who already advocate for care providers.

“We don’t need to pay someone in a union for our voice,” Shaffer said.

The potential cost of a union, both in dues and fair-share fees, was a big concern for area child care providers.

If child care is unionized, “We have not heard what the dues would be,” Coleman said. There’s also the possibility the union could affect rates for child care providers across the state, she said.

Shaffer said some providers around the state have said they would have to pass those costs on to their clients. Ultimately, that would hurt people who are already struggling to pay for child care, she said.

“Families on assistance would have to pay even more,” she said.

Some area child care providers say they are also concerned about the lack of information being made available to them on the unionization issue, and of the ethics of the drive to form a union. Shaffer said in 2011, she was approached by part of a door-knocking campaign for forming a childcare union in Minnesota. Shaffer said she was asked to sign a card to receive more information on the campaign, but she later learned it was actually a union authorization card. Shaffer said she requested her card back after she found out.

Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said Monday that he was not in favor of forcing a union on child care providers. Providers needed to be able to make the decisions that are most realistic for their business and clients, he said.

“We don’t want a union being forced on individual businesses,” Swedzinski said. Having to cope with costs like union dues and fees, he said, “would really impact the abilities (of providers) to serve clients.”

Local care providers said they felt Swedzinski was listening to them, but urged more people to speak to legislators, especially DFL legislators supporting the union bills.

Shaffer said Minnesotans speaking out against the child care union bills also have an online presence, Shaffer said. One group has a Facebook page called “Childcare Providers Who Are Happy to be Union Free.” That group has organized a meeting to discuss the union bills this Saturday in St. Paul, Shaffer said.