Some Carlton County child care providers fight efforts to unionizeHeather Falk has a union sticker on her car, dates a union member and praises her sister’s union. Yet the Cloquet woman has spent much of her free time over the past six years fighting efforts in Minnesota to create a union for licensed home child care providers.
By: Jana Peterson , Duluth News Tribune
CLOQUET — Heather Falk has a union sticker on her car, dates a union member and praises her sister’s union.
Yet the Cloquet woman has spent much of her free time over the past six years fighting efforts in Minnesota to create a union for licensed home child care providers. Falk said she isn’t anti-union; she simply doesn’t see how unionizing will benefit these independent business owners.
But it may not matter what Falk and other opponents want. While there hasn’t been an election, union organizers say a majority of the state’s licensed child care providers have signed cards stating they want a union. That means Gov. Mark Dayton could sign an executive order recognizing such a union. And under state law, that means all licensed home child care providers would have to pay dues whether they choose to join the union or not.
Before the governor signs any executive order, Falk and other opponents want more than just a card-check approval. They want the state’s 11,000 licensed home child care providers to vote yes or no in a secret ballot, monitored by a third party.
Falk and fellow child care provider Judy Sanda spent an evening in July at Gordy’s Warming House, collecting signatures from other providers who oppose the unionization. According to Falk, 100 percent of Carlton County child care providers don’t want a union.
“If you look at it from a business sense, what can they do for us?” said Falk, who is the vice president of Carlton County’s chapter of the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association. “It might give us a stronger voice at the Capitol, that’s about the only thing I can figure out.”
Organizers say the union would be grass-roots driven, and its members would decide whether to pursue priorities such as better subsidy rates and group health care once the union was approved.
“I think one of the biggest things would be developing a process to have a voice in the regulation we are mandated to follow,” said Lisa Thompson, a spokeswoman for Child Care Providers Together, the proposed union.
She said the union also would benefit from the lobbyists, influence and knowledge of its parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Falk said one reason she wants a secret ballot is that there were issues with the cards signed by child care providers. Many providers claimed they thought all they were doing was asking for more information, not asking for a union to represent them.
Katy Chase, statewide director of the Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association and a neutral party in the union discussions, said her organization had multiple reports of providers not understanding what they were signing or being told they were signing cards only to receive more information.
Chase said the Child Care Association supports the idea of a secret ballot as well.
Thompson said a secret ballot and a card check are both ways of finding out whether the majority of child care providers want a union.
“There are nearly 3,000 Minnesota child care providers who are a part of this effort with Child Care Providers Together,” she said in a follow-up e-mail. “This majority was verified/certified for us in December 2010 and, despite the minor fluctuations in our number of card signers at any given time, we have maintained that ‘majority’ level of supportive card signers ever since.”
Falk and other Child Care Association representatives from different regions of the state met with Dayton’s staff last month.
They weren’t, however, able to get an idea of the governor’s intentions regarding the union’s request for an executive order.
Press secretary Katharine Tinucci said the governor hasn’t made any decisions, and that his office is in the process of collecting information and researching the proposal.
“We asked that he doesn’t sign,” Falk said.
But Falk gets the impression the governor is inclined to grant the union’s request, based on their meeting with Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs Michelle Kelm-Helgen.
“She kept talking about how it is within his rights, and 14 other states have done it,” Falk said.