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Judge blocks child care union vote

Rochester daycare provider Jennifer Parrish welcomed news on Monday that a Ramsey County judge had blocked an election for in-home child care providers on unionization.

"We are relieved, but the fight isn't over yet," she said.

Parrish has been one of the most outspoken critics of the union proposal. With the ballot set to go out this week, she and fellow members of the Coalition of Family Child Care Providers had been aggressively campaigning against the measure. She argues the election was unfair because less than half of the state's 11,000 child care providers would be eligible to vote. She also argues that everyone would end up being represented by the unions — whether they would want to be or not.

"Our coalition started last week calling every single one of the 4,287 providers who were eligible to vote and we were down to 1,000," she said.

In issuing a temporary restraining order, Judge Dale Lindman said the unionization issue should have gone through the state Legislature rather than Dayton's approach of calling the vote through an executive order.

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"If unionization of day care is to become the law of Minnesota, it must first be submitted to the lawmaking body of the state," Lindman said, after hearing three hours of arguments from a bank of attorneys. His order remains in effect at least until another court hearing on Jan. 16.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton ordered the union election last month, arguing it's a matter of giving providers the right to vote on the issue. Two unions — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union — have been working to unionize in-home providers since 2005. Supporters argue unions are needed to make sure the voices of daycare providers are being heard in St. Paul.

SEIU Local 284 Executive Director Carol Nieters blasted the judge's ruling and the conservative groups who supported a group of child care providers in filing the lawsuit.

"Minnesota’s family child care providers have been asking for a voice in St. Paul since 2005. Now, on the eve of their opportunity to choose a representative for meetings to support vital and threatened state programs, conservative corporate interests from the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota and their lapdogs in the Minnesota state legislature have succeeded in throwing a wrench into the wheels of democracy," Nieters said in a statement.

Opponents of the union drive argued that Dayton exceeded his powers and designed an election that would have prevented many providers from weighing in. Their attorney, Tom Revnew, told the judge that nothing in state law "directs small business owners or employers to engage in an election. It's simply not there."

Lindman said he was "bothered" that less than half of the state's 11,000 in-home child care workers were eligible to vote. Eligibility was extended to about 4,300 providers who are currently licensed to receive state subsidies to care for low-income children.

Ballots had been printed and ready to go out by mail this week. But the ruling effectively stalls the union push. And organizers predicted it would be hard to succeed in making their case before a Republican-controlled Legislature.

Dayton said in a statement from his office that he respected the court's decision. He said he asked to meet with Attorney General Lori Swanson in order to determine his next steps.

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"I continue to believe that in a democracy, people should have rights to elections to determine their own destinies," Dayton said.

Solicitor General Alan Gilbert argued in court that Dayton was within his jurisdiction because the proposed union wouldn't be able to reach any binding agreements with the administration. Anything the sides wanted to enact ultimately would have required legislative approval.

Proponents argued that providers who rely, in part, on state subsidies to operate had the right to organize and discuss with state agencies over subsidy rates, as well as other rules and regulations governing in-home care. They said a union would strengthen the voice of child care workers at the Capitol.

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