Some child care providers call for expanded union election

House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee
Members of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee listen to testimony about an upcoming unionization vote for in-home child care providers at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Opponents of an effort to unionize Minnesota in-home child care providers say the vote they wanted to stop should now be expanded, to include thousands of more participants.

Some providers who are not eligible to vote in next month's scheduled election told members of a House committee Monday that they too deserve a ballot, because the ultimate union agreement will impact their businesses.

State officials say their current count is for 4,287 licensed child care providers to vote by mail in next month's unionization election. The executive order Gov. Mark Dayton signed last week was aimed only at those providers receiving a state subsidy.

But Dinah Spurgin, a licensed provider in Nicollet County, says she should be able to vote as well. Spurgin doesn't currently provide any subsidized child care, but she told legislators that future negotiations between the union and the state could result in new licensing regulations, ratings systems, training requirements and payment rates for all providers.

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"What I'm simply asking for is a fair vote to place this ballot in the hands of all 11,000 licensed family child care providers in the state of Minnesota," she said.

The Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Providers Association called on the governor to revise his order and expand voting eligibility. Other individual providers suggested delaying the vote to give them more time to understand the issue. The ballots are scheduled to go out in the mail December 7, with tabulation scheduled for December 22.

Joe Hoppe
Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, chair of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, said there are still many questions about the union vote and its potential impact that he wants answered before the ballots go out to child care providers.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Cyndi Cunningham of St. Paul said she and other providers have been scrambling to get information. Cunningham told the panel that she wouldn't have a problem if there was a court case aimed at stopping the vote altogether.

"I'm tired of this. I want someone to help figure out how to stop and give us back our rights that we have to be self-employed people, and not be under the control of the union people," said Cunnningham.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Dayton said later that there would be no delays or adjustments of the vote. Last week, State Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, threatened to file a lawsuit to try to stop the unionization vote.

Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, chair of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, said he has no similar plan to sue. But Hoppe said there are still many questions about the vote and its potential impact that he wants answered before the ballots go out.

"We're in uncharted waters here. This has never been done at least not this way in the state of Minnesota, and I think it's legitimate for this committee to ask these questions," said Hoppe.

Hoppe said he was disappointed that no one from either of the two unions involved showed up for the hearing. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 and the Service Employees International Union are trying to organize child care providers in different parts of the state.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said he couldn't blame the unions for not showing up after last week's lawsuit talk.

"Sen. Hann has made this a very adversarial situation at this point with the threat of a lawsuit," said Atkins. "As a result, you end up with a chilling effect relative to the exchange, and instead get written responses."

In a joint letter to the committee, the heads of the two unions stressed that the executive order would not interfere with the independence of small business owners. They also wrote that only providers who wish to be union members would pay union dues.

Jennifer Mundt, a spokeswoman for AFSCME Council 5, told MPR News that the roughly 7,000 remaining providers could one day get a chance to vote on unionization.

"We think it makes sense for 4,300 child care providers who have a direct financial relationship with the state to be the first group to vote," she said. "In many other states we've expanded from there, and we believe that 11,000 family child care providers eventually may want to have a choice of whether or not to unionize."

Mundt explained that union officials did not attend the House hearing because they were too busy working to win next month's election.