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Controversial child-care unions up for debate again in Minnesota

A year after a judge struck down Gov. Mark Dayton's executive order authorizing a union election among in-home child-care providers, the unionization effort is back on track in the Democrat-controlled Minnesota Legislature.

Since being reintroduced two weeks ago, the renewed push for legislation allowing a union vote for child-care providers has passed several committees in the House of Representatives and Senate. The bill also was recently combined with a similar unionization effort for personal care assistants.

One member of the traditionally labor-friendly DFL party though, Rep. Kim Norton, of Rochester, is speaking out against the unionization effort.

Neither of the two groups, which are made up of self-employed individuals that are eligible for state-paid reimbursements, make sense for a union, she said.

"Unionization is for people that have a boss that they need to negotiate with," Norton said. "The concept of unionization does not make sense for this population."


And while she credits unions for being creative and trying to reinvent themselves as manufacturing and trade jobs are lost, she said this isn't the way to do it.

"I might be alone on this one," she said, comparing her stance to that of the other Democrats in the legislature.

Yet she shares that opinion with her constituents, she said.

"I've gone to child-are provider meetings and none of them are for this," she said. "Even as a Democrat, I still represent my community and constituents first."

Among the in-home day care providers who has testified against the need for a union is Jennifer Parrish , of Rochester.

"Our biggest complaint is that they would be allowing thousands of unlicensed babysitters to vote," Parrish said.

There are about 11,000 licensed daycare providers in Minnesota and thousands of unlicensed providers who receive child care subsidy payments from the state for caring for a friend or relative's child.

By requiring a provider to have received child care subsidy payments within the last 12 months in order to vote on the union, it means that the number of eligible non-licensed providers would outnumber the number of licensed providers that can vote, Parrish said.


"We're not intimidated by a vote of all 11,000 licensed providers because we are so overwhelmingly opposed," she said.

In the case of home care workers, those that are employed by private agencies already have the right to form a union, but home care workers in self-directed programs do not have the same right, noted the Service Employees International Union, which is advocating for the bill.

About 12,000 home care workers in Minnesota's publicly-funded programs would be granted the right to collectively bargain with the state over wages and benefits, which would help reduce the nearly 50 percent turnover rate among personal care assistants, according to information provided by SEIU.

Norton, however, took issue with how the legislation is set up and proposed three amendments to the House bill, all of which were voted down.

Under current statute to trigger a union vote, 30 percent of the workforce has to express interest, Norton said. This bill drops that to 10 percent based in part on the spread-out nature of the child care providers. She proposed keeping that threshold at 30 percent, but the motion failed. So far the Senate version of the bill maintains the 30 percent standard.

Because the House bill drops the threshold for starting a union to 10 percent, Norton proposed also dropping the threshold for canceling a union from 30 percent to 10 percent, which also didn't pass.

Finally, she proposed limiting the union to licensed daycare providers, but the amendment was denied.

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