Stealth union election threatens to bind thousands of child care providers

After fending off union organizers for a decade, Minnesota home-based child care providers face a make or break February election that could leave their businesses subject to collective bargaining and monthly dues.

Yet most of the estimated 10,000 licensed and unlicensed child care providers statewide will not get a say in the issue, under the rules of engagement in a 2013 state law.

“We were shocked to find out that they were limiting the election to a small group of providers who accepted a payment in one month, which we believe excludes thousands of providers,” said Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester provider and leader of the Coalition of Union Free Providers.

It’s the culmination of a controversial bill approved along party lines that classified child care providers and home care workers as state employees for purposes of collective bargaining.

The legislative action 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 pockets.

So far the landmark labor election has flown under the radar of the press and public with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 maintaining a low profile.  AFSCEME’s Child Care Providers Together website simply instructs supporters to “get the latest exciting updates by contacting your regional representative.”

But behind the scenes, providers are flooding social media pages with comments about the potential fallout for their small businesses and concerns over diverting dollars from families in need to union coffers.

“Thanks for keeping us in the loop!!!! This is UNBELIEVABLE!!!!” posted Pat Erickson on Facebook.

“Thought this had gone away?” wrote Peggy Gopaul.

“I just got a letter saying I will be getting a ballot soon. I will make it a priority,” commented an apparent provider posting under Bringgold Becky.

With ballots set to arrive in mailboxes the week of February 8, opponents are scrambling to alert eligible providers statewide to vote. Opponents contend a lower turnout favors the union.

“Every one of them will get a personal phone call and every one of them should get an informational postcard from us,” said Becky Swanson, a Lakeville provider and member of Minnesota Family Child Care. “…So between the internet, phone call and mail, we pretty much have it covered.”

Providers can no longer be required to pay fair share fees, due to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling.  But their home-based businesses would be directly affected by licensing, grievance and regulatory issues that arise in contract negotiations with the state.

Of the 10,000 child care providers statewide, 3,900 had a subsidized child in 2015. Of that number, 2,348 providers get to vote.

Only providers who received a CCAP check in December, the month prior to the January 2016 filing of the labor election, make the cut. Yet their votes will be binding on all child care providers who accept subsidized children.

“In order to be included on the most recent list preceding the filing of the election petition, a family child care provider must qualify as receiving payment through the Child Care Assistance Program between December 1, 2015, and December 31, 2015,” according to a Minnesota Department of Human Services statement.

In fact, some 40 providers who cared for a subsidized child in December, but got paid in January, were removed from a preliminary DHS list of eligible voters. Yet 19 providers who care for subsidized Minnesota children in North Dakota and other border states will be eligible to vote.

“Even though I received payment for the month of December, I didn’t receive it until January,” said Greta Quigley, a Finlayson provider. “Not to sound whiny, but it’s not fair. I think I should count, too. My voice should count, too.”

The fine print on election authorization cards signed by at least 750 providers obligates them to pay union dues, if AFSCME prevails. Estimates of annual dues range from $300 to $900, based on union dues in other states. AFSCME representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services will oversee tabulation of votes on March 1 with $59,000 of taxpayer funds appropriated to conduct the election.

Tom Steward reports on government waste, spending and transparency issues for Center of the American Experiment. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 952-451-3684.