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Minnesota care providers split on union issue

Marilyn Geller, who provides child care in Bemidji, tells a Senate committee Monday that she supports allowing unionization. Don Davis | Forum News Service

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

“They are so eager to learn,” the woman with a Bemidji child care service said. 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 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.

The Berger and Geller testimony reflects 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.

“They are much more than babysitters,” Pappas said about the mostly female group child care providers who would be affected by her bill.

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, along with 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 negotiation 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.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said many child care workers plan to drop any children who receive state subsidies if the Pappas bill passes.

Outside the Twin Cities, it already is “difficult to find good quality day care providers,” Rosen said. “There will be ramifications.”

Pappas said her bill would result in higher child care payments. “The goal here is to put pressure on the state for higher child care subsidies. ... Having an organized group, it is like the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Without higher pay, she added, people will leave the professions. “There also is a danger if we do nothing.”

Pappas said workers for the elderly and disabled, like child care providers, are underpaid.

“We face a looming crisis in our home health care industry,” she said.

“Right now, you are really on your own,” Pappas said about the workers, including some who care for their own family members.

Mark Kirwin of Minneapolis said he is paid for 40 hours a week to care for his wife, a multiple sclerosis patient. Without his help, he said, she would need to move to a more expensive facility.

“It has allowed my family to stay together,” he said about state payment he receives.

Republicans complained that child care and health care providers should not be part of a union.

“Child care workers are not employees of the state of Minnesota,” Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said.

Pappas responded: “It is a new category. ... It does not include any of the other rights of a state employee.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.