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Uneven support among opponents of child-care workers unionization

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Opponents of a campaign to unionize in-home child-care providers have boasted that their lawsuit that stopped the union vote is backed by a broad coalition of like-minded organizations.

But only one of the six conservative political groups that make up that coalition has actually spent any money on the legal fight.

A coalition called Childcare Freedom is paying part of the legal bill. The coalition is made up of six organizations with conservative fiscal or social agendas. They are Education Liberty Watch, Minnesota Family Council, Minnesota Free Market Institute, Minnesota Majority, Minnesota Voters Alliance and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

During a November news conference announcing the lawsuit aimed at halting the unionization vote, attorney Tom Revnew laid out his clients' contention that Gov. Mark Dayton exceeded his authority by ordering the election. But Revnew declined to say who was paying for his services.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss who or how or why," Revnew said. "I simply state that we represent 11 plaintiffs currently, and that there may be others that we may represent."

Dan McGrath, executive director of Minnesota Majority, said opposition to the unionization effort is a good fit for the group. Minnesota Majority is mostly known for supporting a proposed photo ID requirement for voters.

"When we discovered what was happening, we felt that we had to intervene, because it was so outrageous," McGrath said. 

"Minnesota Majority has been concerned about monitoring government overreach and trying to fight it back," McGrath said. "This was clearly a case of government overreach, with the governor issuing an executive order the judge has now said he has no right to issue."

McGrath says Minnesota Majority has "tens of thousands of subscribers," but won't specify their numbers. Under federal law, groups structured like Minnesota Majority don't have to disclose their donors or how much they give. However, they must report how much they spend on legal costs and lobbying. McGrath said his organization has put about $20,000 toward what he expects to be an expensive legal battle against the unionization effort.

"The unions and the governor have the luxury of using taxpayer-supported attorneys, and a whole bunch of them," McGrath said. But these child care providers don't have any money to spend on giant legal fights. So, these non-profit organizations have had to step in, otherwise they would be on their own with no defense against this unionization effort."

To help pay legal costs, the Childcare Freedom Coalition is conducting an online fundraising drive, with a goal of $50,000. While all six member organizations share similar concerns about daycare unions, they have not followed Minnesota Majority's lead with similar donations. Representatives of the five other groups told MPR News they have not yet provided any money in support of the lawsuit. Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council said his organization has lent only its voice to the cause.

"We don't have any plans from our own budget to fund it. But obviously individuals will be involved I'm sure," Prichard said.       Dayton said he wonders about the source of the money to fights his executive order in court. He said the public deserves greater transparency. Dayton's campaign for governor was backed by unions, and his critics say the order on child care was a form of payback. The DFL governor denies that claim, but he says anti-union forces are driving the opposition.

"It's not about my executive authority. It's about they don't want to give the child care providers a chance to vote on whether or not they want a union," Dayton said. "They want to impose their own view, which is no union, on them by not permitting an election, and I just think that's fundamentally wrong in a democracy. But we'll see how it unfolds next month."         Dayton is contesting Judge Dale Lindman's temporary restraining order that stopped the election. A hearing on whether to expand the order is scheduled January 17th in Ramsey County District Court.