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A Celebration for California’s Child Care Providers

Photo credit: Child Care Providers United
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It was 16 years in the making, but child care providers in California recently won the right to bargain collectively, and they celebrated their victory today at an event in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Nearly 300 early childhood educators were joined by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, leaders from AFSCME and SEIU, who will organize the workers under the name Child Care Providers United (CCPU), as well as families of the kids they serve.

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California child care workers now have the freedom to negotiate for higher reimbursement rates, better benefits, greater training opportunities and improved access to affordable child care for working families. This will be the nation’s largest union organizing campaign.

Charlotte Neal, a child care provider and UDW/AFSCME Local 3930 member from Sacramento, Calif.
Charlotte Neal, a child care provider and UDW/AFSCME Local 3930 member from Sacramento, Calif.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders emphasized the critical role that California’s child care providers play in their communities while saluting their long struggle for respect and recognition.

“You provide a safe place for our youngest children to learn and grow, to help them prepare for school, reach their full potential, and realize their dreams. What job matters more than that? What responsibility is more important than that?” Saunders said.

“For too long, you’ve been overworked and undervalued. For too long, you were denied a seat at the table,” he continued. “Now, you have the opportunity to stand together, to speak up together, to build power together in a strong union.”

Saunders praised the leadership of Johanna Puno Hester, United Domestic Workers (UDW) Assistant Executive Director and AFSCME International Vice President, in this fight. UDW, an AFSCME affiliate, will organize the workers in partnership with SEIU Locals 99 and 521.

This campaign has the potential to lift huge numbers of working women out of poverty. For the nearly 40,000 child care providers who will organize under the CCPU banner, the median wage is currently $12 an hour, with some licensed providers earning as little as $5 an hour. Fifty-eight percent rely on government assistance programs to support their families.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders speaks to child care providers at the celebration in Los Angeles as Gov. Gavin Newsom listens. (Photo credit: Child Care Providers United)
AFSCME President Lee Saunders speaks to child care providers at the celebration in Los Angeles as Gov. Gavin Newsom listens. (Photo credit: Child Care Providers United)

Governor Newsom applauded the child care workers for their solidarity and their tenacity in their fight to organize.

“You’ve made this moment happen by believing in each other and believing in this cause, and by holding people like me accountable for delivering on this promise,” said Newsom. “Today, we’re changing the paradigm. You are changing the trajectory of millions and millions of lives by your inspiration and your actions every single day.”

Charlotte Neal, a child care provider and UDW member from Sacramento, California, introduced President Saunders and described the challenges she’s faced running a 24-hour child care center and what being a member of a union will mean to her.

“Most of the kids in my care are on subsidy. Their parents are trying to work their way out of poverty. They need reliable, quality child care to do that. That’s what I provide. But that’s hard to do when I can’t pay my own bills,” Neal said. “Now we are taking control of our destinies and are ready to fix this broken child care system. Every Californian is going to benefit from what we accomplished.”

Early child care providers have a profound impact not only on the children they serve but on parents, communities and the entire state. According to a 2011 paper published by two University of California-Berkeley scholars, who likened the early child care education system to critical infrastructure like roads and public transportation, the $5.6 billion early childhood educator industry “supports $11.1 billion in economic output in the state.”

With the signing of the legislation, Building a Better Early Care and Education System Act (AB 378) by Governor Newsom on Sept. 30, California becomes the 12th state to empower child care providers with collective bargaining rights.