By Alice Dubenetsky
The Vermont Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, and it’s supporters in the statehouse, continue to press hard for the forced unionization of Vermont’s child care providers. Last week, the Senate added the bill to the state’s budget by way of an amendment, in spite of vociferous opposition from Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, who has repeatedly urged the Senate to reject the child care unionization effort. Campbell’s strong opposition to the bill even led Ben Johnson, the president of the Vermont Chapter of the AFL-CIO to resort to unpleasant union intimidation tactics during a “friendly” visit Campbell’s office several months ago. The incident so enraged Campbell that he went public with the facts. However, the union is not inclined to back off because of a little bad publicity, and they are continuing to push for the forced unionization of child care workers with as much vigor as ever.
The union and its backers haven’t won yet, however. Although the budget, with the child care union amendment attached, passed the Senate on a 16-13 vote it has been met with disapproval by House Speaker Shap Smith, who intends to strip the measure from the budget. Smith said he had warned the advocates of the bill that he did not think the budget was “the appropriate vehicle for the child care union bill”. He said that he does not expect the bill to be in the final version of the budget.
Interestingly, the unionization drive is not being embraced with open arms by many of the very people they purport to “help”. Many childcare workers in Vermont are independent contractors, who run their centers as private businesses. They already feel that they have “a seat at the table” when it comes to negotiating with the state and they don’t want a union to take that seat and push them aside. If ever there was a solution in search of a problem this may be it.
One of the most vocal opponents of unionization is Elsa Bosma, who owns Puddle Jumpers Child Care in Shelburne. Elsa is in close contact with many child care provides who do not want to be forced into a union they say they don’t want or need. Her website, No Childcare Union in Vermont, spells out what unionization would mean to independent child care providers, suggests ways to take action to oppose the union drive, encourages visitors to sign a petition and provides phone numbers for Vermont senators and representatives. The petion letter reads, in part:
We are against H.97 because:
• We do not support forced unionization
• We don’t want our hard earned money to go toward a union that may not represent our values
• And most importantly H.97 does nothing to improve the quality of childcare in Vermont!
The site also provides space for comments, nearly all of which are resolute in their opposition to unionization.
After last week’s Senate vote, Bosma says they are “frustrated but undefeated. It’s not over and we’re still fighting.” Bosma said child care providers are disappointed and frustrated with the Vermont legislature, with whom they have historically had an honest and open relationship when it came to reimbursement rates and other issues. “It feels like our legislators are (now) saying that we’re not going to listen to you unless it’s through a union.” She was especially disappointed by Addison Country Senator Giard, who promised not to vote for the bill, and then turned around and voted for it last week.
“It’s an uphill battle. A lot of senators are making the argument that we’re poor or repressed,” said Bosma. “There’s money to be made if you are a good business person.”