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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published March 11 2013

Minnesota child care providers divided on union issue

ST. PAUL – Marilyn Geller loves taking care of young children.

“They are so eager to learn,” said the woman who operates a Bemidji child care service. She could do a better job taking care of children, she told a Senate committee Monday, if she could work closer with other child care providers in a union.

Trish Berger also loves her role as a child care provider. She told senators that many child care providers like her prefer their independence.

“They don’t want to have to be regulated by a union,” the Esko child care provider said.

Berger’s and Geller’s testimonies reflect division seen across Minnesota about whether self-employed child care providers who receive state subsidies for some children should be allowed to join unions.

A bill by Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, would allow child care providers to join unions. It would do the same for personal care attendants and other self-employed Minnesotans who serve the state’s elderly and disabled.

Pappas said thousands of Minnesotans who serve the young, old and disabled are poorly paid and allowing them to join unions would increase their pay.

She said the average per-hour child care pay in areas outside the Twin Cities is $2.83.

The workers also need a union, she said, because “they are often isolated from their peers.”

The Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee discussed the bill Monday and was expected to vote on it late Monday night.

The child care issue arose when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order to allow the child care union vote. Republicans and some child care workers took Dayton to court, which ruled his action violated state law.

When Democrats took control of the Legislature this year, the issue quickly arose, as did the issue of unionization for providers for elderly and disabled care.

While the bill allows the independent workers to join unions to negotiate base pay, the Legislature would have the final say. People who opt not to join the unions would pay “fair share,” an amount less than union dues.

Geller said the Pappas bill would “give child care providers a voice” when they negotiate pay and other issues with state leaders.

Berger, however, urged the committee to table the bill for two weeks and for legislators to hold town hall meetings in that time to listen to the public. She said that listening to others’ opinions would set a good example for children.