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Minnesota Child Care Providers Win Right to Vote for Union Representation

by Clyde Weiss  |  November 16, 2011

Clarissa Johnson
Minnesota child care provider Clarissa Johnston is one of approximately 4,300 licensed, in-home child care providers in the state who just won the right to vote for union representation. An Executive Order signed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D) allows them to vote over a 14-day period. Ballots will be counted before the end of the year. (Photo by Michael Kuchta, AFSCME Council 5)

More than 4,300 licensed, in-home child care providers in Minnesota this week have won a historic opportunity to gain union representation. It’s the first step in a process that will empower them to negotiate over standards, funding and other issues to improve the quality of care they provide.

With the signing of an executive order, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton set the stage for what could be significant improvements to the lives of these providers and the families they serve. The order notes that, although the state “is committed to improving the quality, accessibility, and affordability of early childhood education services … there has been a troubling decline in the number of licensed family child care providers” in Minnesota.

Approximately 4,300 in-home child care providers who participate in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program now will have 14 days to vote on whether they want to join a union and bargain collectively over issues affecting their livelihoods and the services they provide. Mail ballots will be counted before the end of the year.

Council 5’s Child Care Providers Together expects to win an election among 2,300 providers in the northern two-thirds of the state, including Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties. In the southern region, providers will have a chance to vote for representation with SEIU Kids First Local 284. Membership will be voluntary and providers will retain the right to run their own businesses as they always have.

“Providers who chose to join together in a union will gain a strong voice to work with the state to increase the quality of child care, to improve access for working parents, and to stabilize our profession,” says Clarissa Johnston, a child care provider in Mounds View.

“By voting yes in the upcoming election, I will be standing up – not only for myself and my small business – but for all of the children I care for and for their parents,” adds Cassandra Strain, a child care provider in Rochester. “We’re in this together, and we will win this together.”

The health of our economy depends in part on working families having high-quality, affordable and dependable child care, says Lisa Thompson, a child care provider in St. Paul. “When child care providers are empowered, parents can go to work with peace of mind knowing their kids are healthy, learning and safe,” she says. “That’s why unionizing child care will be good for all Minnesotans.”

The providers, who take care of approximately 50,000 children, have expressed interest in improving access to critical training, including first aid and CPR, child abuse prevention and child nutrition.

Thirteen other states currently recognize the right of child care providers to bargain collectively. Providers have been organizing with AFSCME for six years. AFSCME now represents approximately 150,000 family child care providers in California, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

Through collective bargaining, these providers are working with agencies to ensure timely and correct payments, lobbying lawmakers to give them a stronger voice on issues that matter to them, and fighting to increase federal funding for children and the providers who care for them. In Ohio, for instance, providers won a “bill of rights,” a grievance procedure and other achievements (read more here).

Governor Dayton, noting that his own sons received family child care when they were young, said he would not take sides on the outcome of the vote. “I’m just giving people who are for and people who are against what I think is the fairest way, the American way, to resolve their differences, which is to hold an election and let the majority decide.”

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