Did the American Federation of Teachers Union Pressure Childcare Providers to Support H.97?

by Angela Chagnon

While speaking to True North Reports about their opinions on H.97, the bill that would create a union for childcare workers, some childcare providers have revealed that they, and others in their profession, have had personal visits from representatives of the AFT regarding H.97.

“I have been very open to unions coming to talk, I sponsored an evening to talk, but because I haven’t come to their side, they came to my workplace and said if I didn’t get on board I would be left behind,” revealed Katie Gonyaw of Ascension Childcare, Inc. “They’re telling people if they don’t cooperate with them, they’ll be left behind. They’ve come to other centers, been asked to leave and haven’t left. Some have had to say you have to leave now or I’m calling the police.”

Gonyaw said the American Federation of Teachers is the main push behind the childcare unionization movement. The Vermont arm of the AFT, the United Professions AFT VT, is headed up by Ben Johnson. They are also connected to the national union AFL-CIO. (http://vt.aft.org/)

“They’re the funding source, they’re the ones with the resources so they have, I don’t know how many staff workers in Vermont trying to get this off the ground here,” said a pro-H.97 childcare provider who did not want her name released. “They’re the ones providing the resources to help that happen. They’re putting out the marketing, or organizing, the meetings, all of that.”

Executive Director of AFT-VT Andrew Tripp confirmed that his organization was the main push behind the bill, but said that other unions support them as well. He claimed that childcare providers were “doing most of the pushing”, and that they had called the AFT and asked them to help.

During a press conference held March 15, Tripp remarked about the partnership of childcare providers and the AFT, “There’s a natural affinity, I think, between the higher ed folks and the early educators as well as the nurses and caregivers in this state, so it’s been a pretty natural affinity.”

That affinity is not felt by all providers, however. In fact, some of them feel that the AFT has overstepped its bounds.

“I have felt pressured to join, personally, by the union members who have visited my school, although I have never felt pressured to support unionization in general,” said Siobhan Henry-Hooker, a childcare worker employed in Burlington. “And, just to be clear, I do support unions as an option for workers in all fields. Historically, they have made great strides in workplace safety, etc.

“I welcome the option of a union, but do not want to join, personally, and object to being told I absolutely must become a member.”

Tonya Lachapelle of the Robin’s Nest Children’s Center in Burlington also received multiple visits from members of the AFT, although they haven’t visited her for several months now. “I told them to stop coming. They repeatedly came at bad times, and wouldn’t leave when we asked,” she said.

Lachapelle said that she had asked the union members to e-mail her rather than visit. “We’re busy, have a lot of kids we’re trying to attend to. They weren’t responsive to sending e-mails.”

A similar childcare unionization took place in Detroit, Michigan in December 2008. The effects of that law are outlined in this article from the Wall Street Journal. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703478704574612341241120838.html).