Dayton orders union vote by child care providers

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Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton speaks to the press at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. about his executive order authorizing a union vote for thousands of licensed daycare providers in Minnesota Nov. 15, 2011.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order this morning allowing for roughly 4,300 daycare providers in Minnesota to decide whether they should join a union.

The governor's decision paves the way for a vote next month. Supporters say a union would give them a greater voice, but opponents say unionization could drive up the cost of day care for both parents and taxpayers.

For several months, Dayton has considered whether he would allow registered in-home day care providers to accept state subsidies vote to join a union.

Dayton said he conferred with his general counsel, Minnesota's Attorney General and supporters and opponents of the measure. Finding no consensus, he concluded that child care providers should decide the issue themselves.

"It seems to me that given that there's a dispute among those child care providers, the fairest way and the American way to resolve that dispute is through an election," Dayton said.

Dayton repeatedly said during a news conference that he's not taking sides on the vote. But when asked whether he agrees with the groups pushing to join a union, he responded he's supportive of unions in general.

"I'm sympathetic to those who think that a union, as has been proven in other fields, will lead to better wages, better working conditions and better benefits like health care," he said.

Dayton also said those better conditions and benefits could cost the state more, but he emphasized that any extra benefits would have to be approved by the Legislature.

The governor's order sets out an aggressive timeline for child care providers to vote. The Bureau of Mediation Services would mail out ballots on Dec. 6 and they would have to be returned by Dec. 20. Results would be tabulated by Dec. 21.

Day care providers can form a union if a majority of those voting vote in favor of the move. Dayton said no one will be forced to join a union and those who don't join won't have to pay union dues.

The governor's order is a victory for some day care providers pushing for the move and for two public employee unions, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The two unions, which backed Dayton in the race for governor, want to add day care workers to their membership.

Lisa Thompson, a St. Paul-based child care provider who has worked to rally support for unionization, said a union would give child care providers a greater say in how the Legislature and state agencies regulate and reimburse in-home child care providers.

"We don't want less regulation," Thompson said. "We want a voice in how the regulations are implemented and we want a voice in how they're formed in the future and changes things work right now when people at the Legislature are not listening."

Opponents of the move, including many Republican legislators, say it will hurt parents and children.

"It is going to drive up the cost of day care," House Republican Majority Leader Matt Dean said.

Dean and other Republican legislators argue that the unions will negotiate higher day care subsidies from the state. He said opponents also wonder whether day care providers will end up using state subsidies to pay union dues.

"We are going to oppose this very vigorously legislatively as well as any other means that we can," Dean said.

Supporters of the measure say child care providers don't intend to raise rates and point out that the governor and Legislature, not the unions, determine how much the state spends on child care subsidies.

Others who oppose the union say they will try to stop the election from even taking place. State Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he doesn't believe Dayton has the authority to call the election and said he intends to go to court to stop it.

"If you have a governor who is not willing to follow the law, then we have no choice but as a Legislature than to go to an appropriate court and say, 'you need to stop the governor from proceeding in this action,' because he is not warranted by law to do it," Hann said.

Hann could not say whether the Legislature will sue to block the governor's order or whether he will file suit on an individual basis.