More questions than answers in child care unionization hearing

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A hearing on the possible unionization of thousands of Minnesota child care providers who receive a state subsidy left members of a House committee with more questions than answers.

The House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee held a hearing on Gov. Mark Dayton’s Executive Order 11-31, which calls for an election to decide the issue next month. A key question is whether the move would impact all of the state’s roughly 11,000 child care providers, or just the 4,287 who are currently registered to receive the subsidy.

The state official charged with administering the election, scheduled to take place in December, didn’t have a clear answer for committee members.

“I don’t know,” said Josh Tilsen, commissioner of the Bureau of Mediation Services. He said any guarantee of a limited impact “has to come from the folks who will be doing the negotiating” — i.e. the unions themselves.

Representatives from the unions involved — the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — did not testify at the hearing. In a written statement, union leaders said nothing in the executive order would interfere with the independence of the non-subsidized child care providers. They also emphasized that union membership would be strictly voluntary.

Many committee members were skeptical, however.

“It seems to me that there’s no safeguard here,” said Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston).

Other questions from lawmakers included whether non-unionized child care providers could someday be forced to pay “fair share dues,” and also what the typical rate of participation is for mail-ballot elections of the type that is scheduled to take place next month. Tilsen said he wasn’t sure of either answer.

“This has never been done in the state of Minnesota and I think it’s legitimate for this committee to ask these questions,” said Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska).

Committee members also heard testimony from several child care providers who oppose unionization. Dinah Spurgin, a child care provider from Nicollet County, said the unions could end up negotiating licensing regulations, rating systems, training, rates and other matters that affect all child care providers in the state. She said all child care providers should be allowed to vote on unionization.

“What I’m simply asking for is a fair vote. Place this ballot in the hands of all 11,000 licensed family child care providers,” she said.