Hennepin County, union partner to improve child care


Significant improvements are on the way for home-based child care as part of a trailblazing partnership between Hennepin County and AFSCME, government and union leaders said.

Hennepin County took a bold step to improve child care when commissioners voted 6-0 Tuesday to partner with a union of providers, the union said. It’s a powerful partnership with 1,400 licensed providers in Hennepin County who are now eligible to join Council 5 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“Our county regulates child care,” said Commissioner Mark Stenglein. “It makes sense for us to work with providers through their union. Together we will ensure that our license is a sign of quality.”

“For decades our union has teamed up with county governments to improve service delivery,” said Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5. “This new partnership will lead the way to improved child care. I applaud Hennepin County for its leadership and commitment to kids.”

The county and union will focus on three areas of joint action:
1) Advocacy at the state and federal levels for proper funding of quality child care.
2) Training to help providers deliver quality child care.
3) Support for early care and education to prepare kids for kindergarten.

“This is a first – child care providers in our state haven’t had union representation until now,” said Cathy Hietala, president of Hennepin County Child Care Providers Together. “We’re isolated, we work long hours for low pay, and we don’t have time to lobby lawmakers on issues that affect us. Our new union will give us a unified voice and clout at the Capitol.”

“It’s smart to invest in kids,” said Stenglein. “Give children a strong beginning and they will be on track for success. Half of Minnesota kids are not ready for kindergarten. We can do better in Hennepin County.”

Both parents and providers share concerns about deep funding cuts and low salaries. In Minnesota, $140 million in childcare cuts has hurt prospects for higher pay and quality care.

Nearly 10,000 families have lost child care assistance in the past three years due to cuts in subsidies established by the state. This has forced many parents to quit their jobs to take care of their children at home. Together the union and county will try to reverse this trend by raising awareness about the value of child care as a proven, cost-effective investment.

There is a direct link between quality child care and success in school and later in life. Every dollar spent on early childhood education yields $13 in public benefits, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

St. Louis County has also partnered with AFSCME to improve child care by working with 420 licensed providers in the Duluth and Iron Range areas.

Nationally, Child Care Providers Together/AFSCME works with 150,000 family child care providers to deliver training opportunities, higher pay and better benefits. Council 5 represents 43,000 public and non-profit employees in Minnesota, including child care providers and the majority of Hennepin County’s workforce.