Legislation would provide bargaining rights to child care providers
26 February 2013
|ST. PAUL - Family child-care providers would gain collective bargaining rights under bills introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate.
|The legislation continues the seven-year quest by individual, home-based providers to combine their strengths in order to lift their profession, improve care for children, and stabilize costs for parents.
The proposed legislation affects about 9,000 providers statewide who care for kids in Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program. Providers would be able to bargain over reimbursement rates, regulations, training, quality ratings, and other “issues of mutual concern.” The rights kick in if a majority of providers who receive state reimbursement sign cards saying they want a union, or if providers win a union election. They would join providers in 16 other states who already have bargaining rights.
The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, and Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park. Pappas, who relied on child care when she was raising her family, said: “I can’t tell you how important it is that we have high-quality child care and how important it is for the future of our children and our state.”
She called providers “professionals who are experienced, who are smart, who are dedicated and loving…. This will really help the state maximize our investment in quality child care that’s affordable for working parents.”
A long quest
In-home child-care providers in Minnesota have been organizing with AFSCME Council 5 for seven years. In December 2010, a majority signed cards to form a union. In November 2011, Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order authorizing a union representation election among about 4,300 licensed providers who receive reimbursement under the state’s CCAP program. Election ballots were supposed to be mailed in December 2011.
However, right-wing groups led by the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, senators Mike Parry and David Hann, and Rep. Mary Franson attacked the union drive, went to court, and got an injunction to block the election. Ramsey County Judge Dale Lindman said only the Legislature – not the governor – could expand bargaining rights. That’s what the new legislation does.
Power to make a difference
Family providers, who are almost entirely women, say they need a unified voice in dealing with the county inspectors, state regulators, and elected politicians who directly affect the care they provide. But the nature of their work makes that hard to do effectively.
Pappas said that providers work alone in their homes. They often are isolated from peers who do the same work, who face the same challenges, and who have the same aspirations for their businesses and their profession.
Lisa Thompson, president of Council 5’s Child Care Providers Together Local 3400, said a union will makes it easier for providers to partner with each other and the state to raise standards and quality, stabilize the workforce, improve access to training, make sure more children are prepared to succeed in school, and make affordable care more available.
“We really do know what could improve the child-care system by working together,” she said at a Capitol news conference Feb. 25 introducing the legislation. “Thousands of providers have responded with excitement about the possibilities and opportunities that this presents to us.”
Keeping child care affordable
Home-based child care is the most affordable option for working parents. Rates at larger child-care centers in Minnesota are the second-highest in the nation, relative to income. Centers cost parents $6,000 more a year for infant care and $3,500 more a year for a 4-year-old, on average, than home-based care.
But home-based providers are having a hard time staying in business. In the past decade, the number of home-based family providers plunged by 39 percent: from 18,728 in 2000 to 11,446 in 2010. That leaves working parents with fewer affordable options.
State policy is only making things tougher. The state cut reimbursement rates by 2.5 percent for licensed providers in 2011, and 14.5 percent for legal, unlicensed providers. That was after a decade in which reimbursement rates remained essentially frozen. In addition, the state cut training money and more than $11 million to the Basic Sliding Fee program in CCAP.
That program helps low-income working families afford child care so they can keep their jobs. The lack of funding left 6,200 families on the waiting list for the program at the end of 2012.
Child-care associations, despite the services they provide, have not been able to stop this decade of decline. The new legislation would give providers the strength in numbers to change that.
Under an agreement between the national presidents of AFSCME and SEIU, Council 5’s Child Care Providers Together Local 3400 has sole jurisdiction to unionize child-care providers across Minnesota. SEIU would organize personal care assistants in Minnesota, if similar legislation succeeds in giving those home care workers collective bargaining rights as well.
Reprinted from the AFSCME Council 5 website.