By Alice Dubenetsky
This past Tuesday, members of Vermont’s Senate Economic Development Committee stunned supporters of a proposal that would allow home-based child care supporters the “right” to unionize by soundly defeating the bill.
In a 3-2 vote, the committee, including co-sponsor Sen. William Doyle (R-Washington) voted to reject the S.52. Doyle was joined by Committee Chairman Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) and Sen. Donald Collins (D-Franklin). Mullin said he opposed the bill because, although it originally included all early child care workers, those numbers were reduced to exclude child care centers, and employees of non-center based providers, leaving just the independent providers, many of whom, as small business owners, do not want to join a union.
The vote came as a surprise to those on both sides of the issue, which has been the subject of intense debate for three years. Last year it passed out of the House, but stalled in the Senate after ill-advised strong- arm tactics by a union representative infuriated Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, who refused to move the bill. Campbell later softened his stance and promised not to obstruct the bill in the current legislative session.
Supporters of S.52 say it would have given child care providers a “voice at the table” when negotiating state child-care subsidies. The effort was strongly supported by Governor Peter Shumlin. “This bill is about improving child care in Vermont by helping the providers. We need to focus on quality care for Vermont’s children, which will also help their hard-working parents. I’m disappointed the committee chose not to advance the bill.”
The providers themselves, many of whom are small business people in their own right, do not believe they need a union inserting itself between them and their legislators, maintaining that the legislature has always negotiated in good faith. The unions assertion that representation will give them a “voice at the table” falls flat with these independent providers, who believe it would actually remove them from the table, since they would be replaced by the union who would act as the “exclusive representative.” They don’t see any benefit from unionization, only the loss of their “voice” as small business owners, and a loss of income through the forced appropriation of union dues.
Elsa Bosma, the owner of Puddle Jumpers Childcare in Shelburne, spearheaded the resistance against unionization, organizing an on-line petition and creating a website and Facebook page to disseminate information about the unionization effort, all of which garnered broad support from independent providers.
In 2012 the issue became very contentious when union operatives began visiting independent child-care businesses, haranguing and attempting to intimidate the providers into supporting the unionization effort. In at least one case, a fraudulent phone call was made to a legislator in the name of a child-care provider who just happened to discover the deceit during a discussion with her representative at a later date
While Tuesday’s Senate vote halted the unionization effort for this legislative session, the American Federation of Teachers, who back the legislation and stand to profit from it, have vowed fight on, declaring that they will continue to attempt to push the measure on it’s own or attached to another bill if necessary. They are emboldened by success in other states, including Massachusetts, where it took five years to pass a similar bill, but ended in a successful union grab by the AFT.
It is unfortunate that this sector of independent, successful business people are being subjected to unalloyed scorn from some members of the Vermont legislature. A recent gathering of child care workers for and against the bill was held in the days prior to Tuesday’s vote. Attendees wore different colored shirts to show their support or opposition Opponents wanting to send a strong message wore white shirts with the lettering “I Already Have A Voice”.
After the meeting, Senator Dick McCormack (D-Windsor), one of the sponsors of the now failed measure, was quoted in Vermont Business Magazine. “You know the T-shirt ‘I already have a voice?’ Well, yeah, a little, tiny little voice that no one has to listen to if they don’t feel like it. You know ‘I don’t need the union to speak for me.’ Alright, then you take what the management wants to give you…individual workers are relatively powerless, relative to the people who have the money. There is nothing new in this.”
Sadly, there is also nothing new in this kind of attitude among politicians who forget for whom they work, have nothing but contempt for honest people making an honest living, for those who perform honest, good work for society. If this sort of antagonism is prevalent among our legislators, if they don’t believe their own colleagues will bargain in good faith with our business people and residents, then Vermonters will need more than a union to represent their interests. They will need good house cleaning at the ballot box in order to rid Montpelier of all traces of this contemptible attitude.