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GOP Senate committee votes to back suit against day care union vote

ST. PAUL -- A Republican-controlled Senate committee voted 6-1 to support a lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's decision to order an election to allow in-home child care provider unions.

The Rules Committee Thursday ordered its attorneys to file paperwork in Ramsey Country District Court to back a suit 11 day care providers filed to stop the election, which is set for next week.

"There is nothing in state law today that would permit the action that the governor has taken," Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said.

Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, opposed the committee's action. He was the only Democrat at the meeting.

"There must be politics involved with this," Cohen said. "This is an issue that has touched some nerves, obviously."

Republicans pointed to state law that specifically says employers cannot belong to unions, and Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said the child care providers are "private and independent contractors," some of whom employ people.

Several Republicans complained that Dayton's order goes beyond his authority.

"The Senate has a clear and compelling interest in preventing the governor from exercising unilateral power," Limmer said.

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said Dayton's order was issued to avoid legislative action and lawmakers need to join the suit right away: "Large consequences will come out of this if the governor gets to proceed with the election. ... There is a ticking time bomb right now on this issue."

Dayton ordered the election to include 4,300 providers who receive state subsidies. There are 11,000 people who provide day care in their homes, and those who filed the suit claim only union members will have a say in how the state deals with in-home day care providers.

Unions that have worked for six years to allow day care providers to be unionized criticized the committee decision.

Executive Director Carol Nieters of the Service Employees International Union said the GOP-controlled Legislature have cut state child care subsidies, leaving thousands of families waiting to get on the program.

"Astoundingly, they have sued, trying to prevent child care providers from choosing for themselves whether to join together for the support they need to stay in business and keep costs down for the families they serve," Nieters said.

If more than half of the 4,300 providers vote to allow a union, they will have a seat at the table when the state works on day care regulations.

Opponents complain that the unions would help make decisions for day care providers who could not join unions.

The first court hearing in the day care lawsuit is scheduled for Monday in St. Paul. Ballots to the 4,300 providers are to be mailed out on Wednesday and returned within two weeks.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.