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State Senate passes union bill after all-night debate

The Minnesota Senate passed a bill this morning allowing the unionization of home child-care workers and personal care assistants. The debate lasted 17 hours.

The vote was 35-32, with four Democrats joining Republicans in opposition. They were DFL Sens. Terri Bonoff-Minnetonka, Greg Clausen-Apple Valley, Melissa Fanzen-Edina and Bev Scalze-Little Canada.

The bill allows the two groups of workers to decide separately whether to join unions and then bargain collectively with the state for higher subsidies. During the floor debate, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said that her bill would simply remove state law as a barrier to the process of unionization.

"It's unfair to require more barriers and more steps for people who want to be in a union," Pappas said. "They have a right to do that. That have a right to choose. It's all about a right to choose. If they choose not to, they will vote against it, and it will be defeated."

Republicans uniformly blasted the bill as government overreach. They also argued that union representation is unnecessary for providers who are essentially self-employed.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said she believes the bill will result in fewer choices and higher costs for child care.

"Those not wishing to be unionized will no longer accept children from low-income parents who are receiving taxpayer subsidies for child care," Nelson said. "I think that will be tragic for families. It will be tragic for children, and it will be a tragic development for child care providers."

The debate went much longer than Democrats expected. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said after the marathon session that he was deeply disappointed by the "anti-union" opposition from Republicans.

"I think there's a reason they're in the minority," Bakk said. "I think they've lost touch with most Minnesotans, and they're at some risk of becoming just the party of the wealthy."

Bakk said he expects similar GOP tactics in the coming days to slow down budget bills and try to force a special session. The session is scheduled to adjourn Monday at midnight.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, did not deny turning to a slow-down strategy.

"It's not our fault that they have not got their budget bills done," Hann. "If they run out of time, that's not our problem."

Hann said he believes the unionization bill was a clear case of Democrats paying back their political allies in organized labor for last year's campaign donations.

The bill now heads to the Minnesota House, where a vote could come as early as Saturday.

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