Conservative-backed group sues over child care union vote

Attorney Tom Revnew
Attorney Tom Revnew represents a group that is petitioning to stop Gov. Mark Dayton's executive order for about 4,200 state-subsidized child care providers to vote on unionization.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

A group of child-care providers announced plans Monday to file a lawsuit to try to stop a union vote scheduled next month.

The lawsuit, which is backed by a coalition of conservative organizations, claims the vote is unfair and unconstitutional. It also contends that Gov. Mark Dayton might have violated the law when he ordered the election.

State officials are scheduled to send out ballots next week to about 4,200 in-home child-care providers. There are about 11,000 home-based providers in Minnesota, but only those who accept children on state subsidized daycare are eligible to vote on whether to unionize.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 and the Service Employees International Union are behind the organization push.

Becky Swanson of Lakeville won't get to vote, and she fears a union that she doesn't support is now being forced upon her.

"We're a democracy. Let's act like a democracy, and let's do this the American way," Swanson said. "All of us should have a right to vote, or we should set this aside and let us go back to business. I would like to go back to taking care of the children I nurture and take care of every day."

Swanson is among 11 providers who have signed on as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Their attorney, Tom Revnew, said he will ask a Ramsey County judge to halt the election and to nullify the governor's executive order.

Revnew claims the limit on who can vote is unconstitutional. He also contends Dayton exceeded his authority by ordering a unionization election in the private sector.

"When representation elections take place in the state of Minnesota, we're dealing with employees," Revnew said. "And in this case, we believe that Gov. Dayton has overstepped his constitutional bounds, and he is directing small business owners to engage in an election that many simply don't want to, and quite frankly, there's no statutory authority to allow Gov. Dayton to order this executive order."

Revnew said his challenge is not connected to any of the vocal legislative opponents of the unionization effort. State Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, had earlier threatened to file a similar lawsuit. Revnew declined to disclose who was funding his effort, but a coalition of conservative political groups, including the Minnesota Family Council, Minnesota Free Market Institute and Minnesota Majority, are footing at least part of the bill.

Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority confirmed that the coalition is providing "some support."

"This is just fundamentally wrong. Minnesota Majority is interested in challenging government overreach. I think that's part of our mission," McGrath said. "The Family Council, obviously they have an interest in this because families use day care services, and this could have an impact on them."

But one labor leader claims the coalition is also using the child-care debate to conduct a broader anti-union campaign.

Similar executive orders have already been upheld in more than a dozen states, said Brian Elliott, executive director of SEIU-Minnesota State Council, and he insists union membership, as well as union dues, will be voluntary. Elliott said a union will help improve working conditions for all providers but that doesn't mean all providers should get to vote.

"One grocery store doesn't get to decide whether people working in another grocery store get to form a union. It's just not that way this works," Elliott said. So, they won't be in the bargaining unit. They won't be affected by the bargaining unit in any way other than the way that unions generally improve conditions across industries nationwide regardless of the industry."

Dayton did not respond directly to the lawsuit, but Press Secretary Katharine Tinucci released a brief, written statement, reaffirming the governor's position on the vote. Tinucci said that Dayton believes child care providers have the right to decide for themselves whether to form a union.

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