ST. PAUL – Minnesota senators took nearly 17 hours to approve a bill allowing childcare providers and personal care attendants to unionize.

The bill passed 35-32 a little after 8 a.m. today after senators debated it continuously since Tuesday afternoon.

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“Republicans stalled all night, but I’m happy the Senate ultimately granted me the same rights enjoyed by other workers to simply choose whether or not we want to join together in a union,” Rosemount home care worker Darleen Henry said.

Republicans had dozens of amendments ready to debate. Supporters of the bill said those members were trying to stall and block a vote.

The bill would allow for an election among providers if unions meet certain thresholds of support. If childcare providers and personal care attendants decided to form a union, they could negotiate with the state and would have to pay union dues.

Republicans argued that these providers are private businesses that do not need to be unionized.

Four Democratic senators voted against the bill, including Sen. Greg Clausen of Apple Valley.

Debate pushed back discussion on other bills on the Senate’s agenda, which members plan to take up this evening.

“Today, the DFL members of the Minnesota Senate gave childcare providers the right to vote for a union,” Alexandria child care provider Lynn Barten said this morning. “Everyone wins when we come together and work together to improve our lives and profession.”

Childcare provider Marilyn Geller of Bemidji said this morning's vote showed Democratic senators “acknowledged that we are smart women who deserve the right to vote to join a union.”

“With a union, providers will be able to negotiate with the state for better reimbursement rates, which will keep costs down for providers and parents. It’s simple, providers can’t work for less and parents can’t pay more,” Geller said.

Republicans offered dozens of amendments, most of which failed, to weaken the provisions. They repeatedly argued that childcare workers and personal care attendants, who aid the elderly and disabled, deserve higher state payments, are independent business operators and as such cannot be part of a union.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite argument does not make sense because if unions negotiate a certain state subsidy for childcare workers and PCAs, the higher pay is not automatic. The state Legislature still would need to appropriate the money.

Associations already represent the two groups of care providers, but unions have worked for years to represent them.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order allowing union votes, but the courts ruled he did not have that authority.

Unions are prime Democratic Party supporters.

After passing the unionization bill, senators moved on to other bills before leaving for a break. They return at 5 p.m. to consider more bills, including spending sales tax funds on outdoor and arts programs.

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, worried aloud that Republicans could filibuster and delay progress on spending bills that make up a $38 billion, two-year budget.

“It is possible they could talk things to death and run out the session,” Bakk said.

The state Constitution requires lawmakers adjourn for the year Monday. While the House and Senate have passed their initial budget bills, negotiators are working out differences between the two chambers and considering Dayton's budget plans. However, none of the negotiated bills have come back for final votes.

By Don Davis and Danielle Killey