By Alice Dubenetsky
Vermont’s independent child care providers continue to resist efforts by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and a number of state legislators, including Governor Peter Shumlin, to force them into becoming part of a collective bargaining unit under the AFT’s umbrella.
Vermonts Child Care providers are independent small business owners, many of whom chose their profession because of the autonomy if affords them. The concept of a union is antithetical to the core values of many, and they’ve vowed to fight the effort.
The unionization push began to heat up in 2012, when Act H.97 An Act Relating to Early Childhood Educations, was introduced to the Vermont House at the behest of the AFT. The bill was passed on the third reading and passed to the Senate for action, where it stalled when Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell declined to move it out of committee. Campbell’s recalcitrance so enraged the union that Vermont’s AFL-CIO President, Ben Johnson, paid the Senator a visit and issued a not very subtle threat to the Senator regarding future his campaign financing prospects should he continue to thwart the union’s wishes. However, Campbell did not respond as expected – the threat hardened his resolve not to move forward with the bill.
While efforts were being made to ram through the bill against the wishes of many childcare providers, the providers themselves organized a grass roots campaign to defeat H.97 and stop it in it’s tracks.
Elsa Bosma runs Puddle Jumpers Child Care in Shelburne. When it became apparent the independent child care providers were about to be railroaded into either joining a union, or paying “agency fees” to opt out, she set up a website, organized an on-line petition, and created a Facebook page, reaching out to business people like herself to try to stop the AFT.
Bosma has pledged to continue the fight in the Senate. Interestingly, Bosma says she was never politically engaged before the union issue came up, concentrating, as most people tend to do, on her family and her business, not realizing that while she was busy running her life, her legislators were busy trying to figure out how to meddle in her affairs to the benefit of a powerful and influential third party – the AFT.
It didn’t take Bosma long to catch on and catch up, although she admits she’s still climbing a very steep learning curve. She recently created a new website called Vtchildcareindependence.com, and conducted a survey targeted predominately at Child Care providers, but including a few others. The ratio of respondents was 89% providers, 11% others. The survey indicates that Vermont’s Child Care providers clearly see the writing on the wall and oppose the unionization by a large margin. When asked the question: “ As a home childcare provider in the State of Vermont, do you want the legislature to pass a bill to allow childcare providers the right to unionize?” a stunning 74% said “no”, with 12% responding “yes” and 14% “unsure”.
The results of Elsa’s survey contrast sharply with one conducted by Hart Research for the AFT in December 2011. That poll included such leading questions as (how important is:) “Making sure that working people in Vermont can earn a decent standard of living” and (how important is:) “Making sure that all Vermont children have access to high-quality early childhood education and care” with favorable responses of 83% and 74% respectively. It’s actually amazing that the favorability to such questions was so low. No mention was made about the respondents would feel about unionizing a block of private sector business people against their wishes.
The union is “offering” collective bargaining to people who already are organized in a professional manner, who have no major issues with bargaining with the state, and who believe that “the state” has historically bargained in good faith. They do not want a union to come between them and their legislators under the guise of “giving them a voice” or “a seat at the table.”
“For me, it would be a lack of voice,” says Bosma. “We live in a state where people can actually call their local legislator and talk for 20 minutes.” She said that Child Care providers are “doing phenomenally well” on their own. The unions claims that they are in need of professional development services is creating a bogey man that simply doesn’t exist, according to Bosma, who says that professional development agencies are available to them from “Newport to Brattleboro”.
As far as other “benefits” the union may provide, the facts are that the AFT will not provide anything beyond a financial burden, and, in fact, may be view as nothing more than a government-backed money grab. The bill does not provide for health benefits, retirement or liability insurance, or an increase in wages. The bill would cover all home providers, licensed home providers, and legally exempt providers. Although there is a provision to “opt out” of the union, it effectively makes little difference since the providers would still be required to pay an “Agency Fee” of 85% of dues.
A bill authorizing non-union member payment of fees was just passed by a vote of 24-5 in the Senate on February 6th, which would force teachers, school administrators and municipal employees to pay dues to a union they do not wish to belong to. If the Child Care providers become unionized, this would apply to them, as well.
As of this date, Bosma said that Vermont’s independent Child Care Providers are calling their legislators, writing letters to the editors of newspapers statewide, and holding community forums, trying to get the word out that they stand united against unionization. It remains to be seen whether their legislators, with whom they have traditionally had mutually beneficial relationships, will jeopardize a system that works well for children, parents and providers to satisfy the demands of a grasping union with an insatiable need to fill it’s coffers even at the expense of the people it purports to “help”.