Archived Story

Editorial: Let the clock run out on day-care union idea

Published 8:28am Monday, May 20, 2013

The 2013 labor wish list at the state Capitol includes a measure to allow some home-care workers to bargain collectively with the state. Those who care for young and vulnerable Minnesotans deserve our respect. It’s important work they do, but union representation isn’t a good idea for the workers or for those they care for. We join the skeptics who doubt the proposal will bring us closer to what we all want: good care for those who need it, a good deal for taxpayers and stable costs.

“Representation would give workers a louder voice to press for standards, training and higher state reimbursement rates,” the Pioneer Press reported last week. Opponents, including some providers, “see it as a grab for union dues that is being forced on them.” The bill would call for votes on whether to organize workers who care for state-subsidized clients — day care providers and personal care attendants who care for the sick, elderly and disabled.

The measure raises questions about how care in a union environment would better serve clients, how it would benefit workers and whether care ultimately would cost more.

It’s also a political hot button. Action this session on items on the labor wish list is a result, in part, of the power shift at the Legislature that put Democrats in control. According to an Associated Press analysis of campaign reports, unions pumped more than $3.7 million into Democratic races and the state party last year, and steered millions more toward independent campaign groups.

“I believe very strongly that workers have right to choose to organize a union,” the bill’s Senate author, St. Paul DFLer Sandra Pappas, told us. “It would enable them to organize if they so choose.”

The state now is a barrier to the workers’ ability to organize, said Pappas, who also is Senate president. “All my legislation is doing is removing the barrier.”

But some think they will be forced into a union. “That’s not the case,” Pappas argues. “There are various steps and hurdles that the union has to surmount before we even get to an election,” which then is “the decision of the majority, plus one. That’s the way elections work in our democracy.”

A large number of providers want to organize, Pappas said. Child care workers, for example, would negotiate with the state for an increase in the Child Care Assistance Program subsidy. “I would not do this if didn’t think it would benefit children and the people who need PCA services,” she told us. “This will result in more stable workers and better trained workers.”

We share the concern of Minnesotans about the needs of our youngest citizens — and the conviction that quality early-childhood programs are important. We’re not convinced, though, that you need a union to advance training, professional development and other educational programs for these workers.

Family day-care providers who don’t care for children covered by the subsidy are “out of the picture,” Pappas says.

Are they really? Critics argue that providers ineligible to participate in the vote could be affected by decisions at the bargaining table. Negotiated changes could affect the market overall — a free market better left to function on its own. Many of these workers are, after all, small-business people.

The issue is difficult, Pappas said, because discussions involve people who, from a union standpoint, are “not the usual workforce,” Pappas said.

In a Senate Finance committee vote last week two DFLers, Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka and Barb Goodwin of Columbia Heights, voted with Republicans against the bill. Bonoff said, according to a report, “It’s not what my community wants.”

The bill now is on the Senate floor. With just more than a week remaining in the session, “We’ll see if we even have time to bring it up,” Pappas told us.

The clock is ticking at the Capitol. On this issue, it should run out.

— St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 12