AFT Continues Drive to Seize Bargaining Power – And Money – From Vermont’s Child Care Providers

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.”

 

2 thoughts on “AFT Continues Drive to Seize Bargaining Power – And Money – From Vermont’s Child Care Providers

  1. At a Vermont Worker’s Forum candidate panel, we were asked about this unionization of childcare workers. What they didn’t expect to hear was a former preschool teacher with an Early Childhood Education degree (me) speak out against this.

    RE: Quality

    I asked the teachers in the room if they truly think they don’t offer quality childcare because that’s what the unionization effort is telling us about them. Why are they allowing this mischaracterization of what they do?

    RE: Pay

    I advised the teachers in the room to look at state regulations regarding teacher to child ratios if pay is really an issue, not unionization.

    RE: Unintended consequences

    I got the opportunity to speak with a child care provider 1:1 and advised her to tread lightly with this if she values the relationship she has with the parents of the children she takes care of because unionization will create a level of mistrust as soon as their hard-earned money starts to pay her union dues.

    RE: Education and crime

    One of the biggest reasons “for” early childhood education is this strange notion that if you don’t attend preschool you end up uneducated and a criminal. A quick survey of the crowd done by me proved while almost no one in the group went to preschool non are stupid, one was an admitted criminal. ‘Nuf said.

    RE: Respect

    Did the child care providers/ preschool teachers EVER hear a parent say they weren’t respected or is that the voice of the union driving a wedge between the parent and the provider?

    RE: Childrens’ “need” for preschool

    It isn’t the children who need preschool, it’s the parents who need preschool/child care so that they can work.

    Ultimately, I gave the message that the best place for children is with their parents and child care/preschool is nothing more than a necessary evil to most of us. This forum was videoed in September, 2009 by the VT Worker’s Center and others. It was held at the Socialist Hall in Barre. Good luck trying to find the video but please try and post. It’s very telling which of the 14 panelists of Republicans and Democrats were for this unionization effort and which were not.

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