Some providers of day care in Minn., fear they would lose say under unions
ST. PAUL -- Becky Swanson says she fears that she will lose her voice with state officials if fellow day care providers vote to unionize.
If a majority of 4,300 Minnesota in-home day care providers vote to join unions, Swanson said, the unions probably would take over all negotiations.
"I'm a small-business owner," the Dakota County day care operator for 10 children said Monday in announcing she and 10 other child care providers are suing to prevent the vote.
Backed by a coalition of politically conservative groups, attorney Tom Revnew said his clients seek an injunction to stop the election, set to begin next week.
Ballots asking day care workers if they want to join unions are to be sent out on Dec. 7. They will be given two weeks to return the ballots.
"There is no state authority to allow Gov. Dayton to order this election," Revnew said.
Union elections, Revnew added, are for employees, not for people who own day care businesses.
The powerful Senate Rules Committee plans to discuss the issue Thursday morning, potentially starting its own court action. Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, has threatened to sue over Dayton's order.
A representative of one of the two unions pushing for the vote said the legal action was just a ploy by "cheap-labor conservatives."
"Voters in this election include only licensed, subsidized providers who have a direct financial relationship with the state of Minnesota," said Eric Lehto, organizing director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5. "It is this direct community of interest that makes them an appropriate bargaining unit."
Union supporters say their effort would open the door for more pay and benefits for day care providers and improve child care.
AFSCME and the Service Employees International Union have tried for six years to gain permission to allow Minnesotans who care for children in their homes to join unions. The effort went nowhere under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but Democrat Dayton issued an executive order to allow the election less than a year into his term.
Revnew and Swanson said that besides the lack of legal authority, Dayton's Nov. 15 order leaves out 60 percent of day care providers.
Dayton ordered the election to include 4,300 providers who receive state subsidies, but Swanson said that would leave the rest of the 11,000 home day care providers, including her, without representation.
State officials now listen to her, Swanson said, but if unions are involved she fears other day care providers would be ignored.
Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said in a letter that unions would negotiate with her in some cases, but she would remain open to hearing from other day care-related groups.
Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority said his organization is providing some funding for the court action because the group is interesting in stopping "government overreach."
The lawsuit seeks to stop the election, as well as declaring Dayton's order to be void.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.