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Court weighs whether to halt Minnesota union drive

MINNEAPOLIS — The fate of a possible election that could unionize thousands of Minnesota home day-care operators rests with federal Judge Michael Davis, who said at a hearing Thursday that he would rule quickly on whether to halt the drive.

Minnesota lawmakers authorized the union-organizing effort earlier this year, but opponents asked Davis to put the law on hold. The proposed union would cover some 12,700 providers who take care of children who are subsidized by the state.

Doug Seaton, the attorney for a group of day care operators trying to block the union drive, said an election appears imminent and argued that it may be impossible to unravel its result.

But state Solicitor General Alan Gilbert said a pair of lawsuits challenging the law is premature, arguing that those suing can't prove harm from a process that has yet to fully play out.

"It cannot be based upon speculations on a series of hypotheticals," Gilbert said, asking Davis to dismiss the lawsuits.


Gilbert ran through the sequence of events that must occur before a union is formed and any agreement put into effect. It starts with a petition drive, submission of pro-union cards and then a vote. Agreements reached between the state and a union are subject to ratification by the Legislature and the union's members.

Democrats who control the Legislature approved the union-organizing drive in May over unanimous opposition from Republicans in the minority. The GOP accused legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton of paying back union allies. Dayton responds that "right-wing extremists" are funding the legal challenges.

Gregg Corwin, an attorney for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees chapter that is behind the union effort, said the plaintiffs in the case are guessing that any result will harm them because it is "ideologically and politically repulsive to them."

He said the proposed union could seek state changes that result in higher reimbursement rates, better training and improved working conditions. High turnover in child care could stabilize as a result, he said.

But Seaton said the law intrudes on the operation of independent businesses, and said operators of the affected day cares would be forced to pay union fees even if they don't favor it. Some, he said, might opt out of providing care to subsidized children.

"Their lives will be changed. Their livelihoods will be changed," Seaton said.

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