Child care providers flatly reject unionization in lopsided vote

PAUL, MINN.– After eleven years of facing labor organizers at their doors, Minnesota in-home child care providers overwhelmingly rejected union representation in an election decided today in St. Paul.

“Providers have been saying ‘no’ to the unions for so long, it just feels so good that we’ve finally been heard,” said Lakeville provider Pat Gentz.

Despite more than a decade of organizing, card campaigns and expenditures, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 garnered 392 votes, compared to 1,014 for providers opposed to the union.

The margin of victory announced by Bureau of Mediation Services officials stunned even the most ardent child care providers monitoring the results of the mail ballot election.

“The fact that child care providers not only beat the union, but did it in such a landslide, even though the odds were stacked against us, proves what we’ve been saying for many years now,” said Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester provider and leader of the Coalition of Union Free Providers.  “Childcare providers want nothing to do with AFSCME.”

Union officials reacted to the one-sided loss by announcing an end to efforts to organize Minnesota’s mostly female, in-home child care business owners before authorizing legislation sunsets next year.

“AFSCME honors the mighty women who care for Minnesota’s poorest children,” AFSCME Council 5 executive director Eliot Seide said. “We value their hard work and will continue to advocate for quality child care that working parents can afford.  But we will not pursue another union election before the law expires in 2017.”

State officials had faced criticism for excluding most of the estimated 10,000 licensed and unlicensed child care providers statewide from the mail balloting. Only 2,348 providers who received payment for a subsidized child in December 2015 were eligible to vote, under the state’s view of the law.  All providers would have been affected by licensing, grievance and regulatory issues covered in contract negotiations.

“I’m so happy I can go back to my CCAP family and tell them they can stay with me,” said Tracy Stengel, a provider and election observer. “She was in tears at my front door, when I told her I didn’t know what her future was.”

The stinging defeat apparently ends a divisive process resulting from a controversial 2013 bill that classified child care providers and home care workers as state employees for purposes of collective bargaining.

The legislation, passed along a party line vote, paved the way for unions to try to divert some of the $270 million in taxpayer subsidies for families in need under the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) into their own coffers.

Afterward, emotions ran high among some of the 20 or so providers and observers in the BMS conference room.

“It’s a sad day when fear mongering wins out, it just is,” said Lisa Thompson, an election observer and president of Child Care Providers Together/AFSCME Local 3400.

Meantime, the National Right to Work Foundation represents child care and home care providers in court cases in seven states, including Minnesota.

“Caregivers’ freedom of association shouldn’t hinge on the outcome of one unionization election,” said National Right to Work Foundation vice president Patrick Semmens. “It is outrageous that these caregivers had to spend time and resources to beat off an aggressive AFSCME organizing campaign that only happened because the Minnesota legislature passed special legislation to corral more people into union ranks.”

“This will have a big impact nationally,” said Doug Seaton, a Twin Cities attorney who represents several providers in continuing legal action.  “I think other states will take away from this that if they don’t have it yet, it can be stopped. And if they do have it, there are opportunities to unravel it.”