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Dayton Orders Union Vote By Child Care Providers

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday ordered Minnesota’s home-based child care providers to vote on whether to form a union, putting him on a union-rights collision course with Republican lawmakers who immediately vowed to sue in order to prevent the vote.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union have spent six years trying to organize licensed daycare providers, contending they deserve union representation to bargain over issues ranging from daycare subsidies to poor families to state and local regulation. Dayton, who has enjoyed strong union backing, said he would not take sides in the vote but believes daycare providers should be able to decide the issue for themselves.

“Given there is a dispute among those childcare providers, the fairest way and the American way to resolve that dispute is through an election,” Dayton said.

The governor’s executive order sets a union authorization election for next month, with final results likely to be known by Dec. 21. Republicans vowed to commence immediate legislative hearings on the issue, saying Dayton exceeded his authority, is pushing through the issue too quickly and that unionization of daycare workers would likely result in higher childcare costs for many families.

“For many middle class families child care is their greatest expense,” said House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood. “Clearly, anything that might increase that cost, you’d wonder why are we doing that?”

Union officials said they believe 5,300 licensed providers who receive some type of child-care subsidy from the state, and who together care for about 65,000 children, would be eligible to vote. The state has about 11,000 child-care providers total, but Dayton said those that operate solely on private funds would not take part in the vote and would not be affected no matter its outcome.

The governor also stressed that even if a union is authorized, membership would be voluntary. The election will be conducted by the state Bureau of Mediation Services.

Eliot Seide, the leader of Minnesota’s AFSCME Council 5, told The Associated Press in September that a union would give daycare providers a stronger say in imposition of state and local regulations, the amount of subsidies given to poor families for child care, and issues including training, health care and grievances with licensing authorities. He said the union would not be involved in setting rates for parents who pay for their children’s care.

Clarissa Johnston, who has provided childcare in her home in Moundsview for the last 25 years, said a union would “empower me, and help me concentrate less on rules and regulations and more on providing care to children.”

Several childcare providers backing the union drive said parents should not expect that unionization would drive up their daycare costs.

“We’re individual small-business owners, and we choose what our rates are. That wouldn’t change,” said Melissa Smith, a daycare provider in Prior Lake.

Republican state Sens. David Hann and Mike Parry, who lead that chamber’s Health and Human Services and State Government committees, suggested Dayton was rewarding unions for their political support.

“It’s just another Merry Christmas gift from our governor which will just create more government intrusion into the lives of our businesses,” said Parry, of Waseca.

Hann said he believed Dayton has no authority to call a unionization vote of private business-owners, and said Republicans would file a lawsuit to stop the vote.

“We are going to do everything in our power to make sure he cannot proceed,” Hann said.

Dayton’s office said 15 other states have authorized providers to collectively bargain on matters including staffing, safety training and quality of care.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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