by Angela Chagnon
The House General, Housing and Military Affairs committee heard testimony from supporters and opponents of the childcare provider union bill, H.97 on Wednesday.
Kristin Warner, a representative of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), spoke of her support for the bill. She offered amendments that would place several provisions back into the bill that the Human Services committee had previously removed:
· Language that would allow union “agency fees” to be charged to non-members
· Allow childcare center owners and employees to become part of the union
· Broaden the scope of bargaining to “representation fees and state-funded mechanisms and funding to improve access to retirement, health care, disability, and other benefit programs.”
The so-called “agency fee” would force non-union members to pay the union for its bargaining services. The current version of the bill only includes home-based providers in the union membership, due to strong opposition from childcare centers who did not want to be included in the union.
According to Warner, the AFT wants these centers to be included in the union membership for – you guessed it- “the children”.
“Why do I support the inclusion of centers in H.97?” Warner said. “The short answer, for me, is if we could all be at the table, sharing our expertise and the challenges facing our profession, just think of what we could accomplish for children in Vermont!”
Warner cited the greatest challenges for early educators as low wages, lack of respect for the profession, and lack of access to health insurance.
“If we were able to improve these things over time, it would be possible for us to focus on our work and not have to have three jobs to make ends meet,” remarked Warner.
In a press conference held in March about H.97, Andrew Tripp, the Director of Early Educators United-AFT (EEU-AFT), was asked if H.97 was about bargaining for money. He replied that “collective work is not limited to money. There’s a whole scope of things, many of which are not economical.”
When pressed about the purpose of H.97 by a reporter at the same press conference, EEU-AFT representative Cathi St. Marie said, “The point is just to be there, to be heard. As a group we’re not being listened to.”
While Tripp and St. Marie would not say specifically that the proposed union was being created to get more money or benefits for providers, most of the reasons H.97 supporters list are financial in nature.
Warner continued her testimony by saying, “Having providers at the table will ensure that the public funding is spent in the most productive and meaningful ways to the direct benefit of children and families.”
She said that although there have been childcare advocates pushing for increased funding for years, she believed that “our voice needs to be stronger and more organized.”
“H.97 doesn’t guarantee anything other than a seat at the table,” Warner went on. After talking about how dedicated and hardworking childcare providers are to their jobs, she concluded with a sales pitch about how they wanted to “take responsibility” by being “at the table” to “improv[e] child care services in Vermont.”
“Why would you exclude us? Why would you silence our voices?” Warner demanded. “How will that help children and families? By including us in H.97, you will help us help children. What could be better than that?”
So why is the AFT so focused on creating a union for childcare providers? Warner said that the AFT is doing this because “many members are teachers” on the national level. She outlined the work the AFT put into H.97, how they made a “concentrated effort” to reach all parts of the state to ask providers what they wanted to have done.
Warner blamed opposition to the proposed union on “misconceptions”, saying that the effort to stop the legislation was based on “reaction[s] using trigger language” to say that H.97 will harm children and families. She said that those who pointed out that standards of quality were not included in the bill were “putting the cart before the horse.”