ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday ordered Minnesota's home-based child care providers to vote on whether to form a union to negotiate with the state over issues ranging from subsidies for poor families to state and local regulation. Two Republican lawmakers immediately vowed to sue to prevent the vote.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union have spent six years trying to organize licensed daycare providers and contend they have majority support from eligible voters. Dayton, who has enjoyed strong union backing, said he would not take sides in the vote and believes the daycare providers should decide for themselves.
"Given there is a dispute among those childcare providers, the fairest way and the American way to resolve that dispute is through an election," Dayton said.
The governor's executive order sets a union authorization election for next month, with final results likely to be known by Dec. 21. It also puts the Democrat on a union-rights collision course with Republicans who control the Legislature.
Union officials said they believe 5,300 licensed providers who receive some type of child-care subsidy from the state, and who together care for about 65,000 children, would be eligible to vote. The state has about 11,000 child-care providers total, but Dayton said those that operate solely on private funds would not take part in the vote and would not be affected no matter its outcome.
He also stressed that even if a union is authorized, membership would be voluntary. The election will be conducted by the state Bureau of Mediation Services.
Eliot Seide, the leader of Minnesota's AFSCME Council 5, told The Associated Press in September that a union would give daycare providers a stronger say in imposition of state and local regulations, the amount of subsidies given to poor families for child care, and issues including training, health care and grievances with licensing authorities. He said the union would not be involved in setting rates for parents who pay for their children's care.
Clarissa Johnston, who has provided childcare in her home in Moundsview for the last 25 years, said a union would "empower me, and help me concentrate less on rules and regulations and more on providing care to children."
Several childcare providers backing the union drive said parents should not expect that unionization would drive up their daycare costs.
"We're individual small-business owners, and we choose what our rates are. That wouldn't change," said Melissa Smith, a daycare provider in Prior Lake.
Republican state Sens. David Hann and Mike Parry, who lead that chamber's Health and Human Services and State Government committees, suggested Dayton was rewarding unions for their political support.
"It's just another Merry Christmas gift from our governor which will just create more government intrusion into the lives of our businesses," said Parry, of Waseca.
Hann said he believed Dayton has no authority to call a unionization vote of private business-owners, and said Republicans would file a lawsuit to stop the vote.
"We are going to do everything in our power to make sure he cannot proceed," Hann said.
Dayton's office said 15 other states have authorized providers to collectively bargain on matters including staffing, safety training and quality of care.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.