Plans to Force Small Businesses Into Union Raises Hackles
By Alice Dubenetsky
What’s a labor union to do when they run into the completely unexpected: people who value self-reliance and who respect and trust their lawmakers to work with them directly and in good faith? Well, in the case of the AFL-CIO and its affiliate the American Federation of Teachers, they attempt the type of strong arm tactics and bullying that are all in a day’s work in places like Chicago, but are anathema to the way business is done in the state of Vermont.
House Bill 97 (H.97) would allow childcare providers and early childhood educators to enter into collective bargaining with the state. The union has made big promises to the people it purports to help. However, a large and growing number of those same people don’t want or believe they need help in negotiating child-care subsidy rates and reimbursements from the state. They are small, independent business people, many of whom chose the profession because of the autonomy if affords them.
Elsa Bosma, who runs Puddle Jumpers Child Care in Shelburne, is spearheading the effort to defeat H.97. She has organized an on-line petition and created a Facebook Page to help inform and organize the many child care providers who value their independence and who do not feel the need for third party representation. The petition reads, in part:
We are against H.97 because:
1) We do not support forced unionization
2) We don’t want our hard earned money to go toward a union that
may not represent our values
3) And most importantly, H.97 does nothing to improve the quality
of childcare in Vermont!
To date, the petition has garnered 320 signatures, and is gaining momentum. Comments on the page, from child care providers state-wide, uniformly agree that there is no need or desire for union representation. Many point out that they are self-employed and intend to stay that way, that they can advocate for themselves far more effectively than a third party and point out that the Vermont Child Care Providers Association already meets their needs and that the states Child Development Division meets with them regularly to discuss issues that are important to them. A few people summed up their feelings tidily.
“I do NOT want another layer between me and my law makers. I DON’T need anyone to speak for me and my business,” said one poster. Another noted; “I already have a voice and a positive relationship with the state. I would like to continue to work with the state to move to move our profession forward!!” And one summed it up in five words “I want to be independent.”
Opponents of unionization say that the central point of the unions pitch to “give them a voice at the table”, means nothing, since they already have a voice and have direct access to legislators and state agencies. Bosma says that a union would actually make it harder, not easier, to communicate with the state, by placing itself between the two entities as an “exclusive representative”. It would also add an unnecessary expense – union dues – and they do not want to pay for something they already have. However, those inconvenient facts don’t fit the union’s unstated agenda, which is to enhance their membership roles and enrich their coffers.
The condescending attitude and disagreeable tactics of union representatives have alienated many of the state’s child care providers. Bosma says she has received over 90 letters from her colleagues, detailing unannounced visits by union representatives who became aggressive when the person did not agree to work with the union to pass H.97. Bosma made some of the comments available to TNR, with names and locations removed to protect their privacy. The recurrent theme of the letters was frustration with unannounced drop-in visits, with the pressure to call their legislators right away to tell them they support H.97 and rude behavior. A random sampling of excerpts from the letters follows:
“What I really don’t like and another reason I have been feeling so negatively is about the process they are taking to try to organize the union. I am feeling almost harassed, by the drop in visits and the phone calls. Asking me to call my legislator right then and give them a message, then several times over the summer several more drop in visits. Yesterday a representative called me 3 times about calling my legislator to leave a message that I support H.97 I told them that I wasn’t sure on my decision to support the union, so I didn’t do it… but now I am. I do Not support H.97.”
“My experiences in dealing with representatives from the Union have been less than positive, if this is any indication as to what a union would offer child care providers it sure leaves a sour taste. An example of this is when a representative came to my home, I asked her to return after my day was done and was informed that this is when she was being paid. I asked her to leave, she asked me what I needed for training and how I felt about the state licensing regulations, I asked her to leave, as I am trying to close the door with her body in the way, she repeated her questions, I said I needed nothing and was very happy with the way the state and I worked together. She told me I was abnormal and did not understand the trials of being a child care provider. I offered her the opportunity to leave or I could call the police department to assist her, she left.”
“I was also contacted to add my name to the support of H.97…. The next thing I knew I was receiving a phone call from our representative, Harvey Smith, saying that I personally called to voice my support to this bill. I DID NOT call Harvey, they used my name without me knowing it!!”
Bosma herself had a visit from a union representative, but thinks that since she is a well-known and vocal opponent of the unionization effort, she was treated with slightly more respect. Still, she said, the union representative told her that all her colleagues were for the bill, and they refused to leave in a timely fashion, even when it was evident that she was busy caring for children at the time and the discussion was over.
Bosma plans to keep up the fight to hold the union at bay. The question is, will the growing support for her movement convince legislators – and Governor Shumlin – to take another look at the issue and not just bow to a powerful entity like the AFL-CIO and it’s vast resources and unsavory tactics? It’s almost a David and Goliath story, except this time “David” happens to take the shape of a bunch of fiercely independent small business people – also known at Vermonters.