Here They Go Again: Union, Legislators Renew Attempt To Unionize Childcare Providers

By Alice Dubenetsky

Vermont legislators who wish to push forward a measure to “allow” home based child care providers to unionize have already begun this year’s legislative assault on these small business owners.

On the opening day of the 2014 legislative season a bill that would open the door to coerced unionization of Vermont’s Independent Childcare Providers , who are small, independent business owners, unanimously passed in a Senate Education Committee vote.

Vermont’s independent child care providers have vowed to continue to fight this on-going offensive, driven by the American Federation of Teachers, to force them to join a collective bargaining unit under the umbrella of the AFT. They say union representation is something they neither want nor need, because the union can’t provide anything they don’t already have, and will, in fact, have a negative impact on their businesses.

The unionization push began to heat up in 2012, when Act H.97 An Act Relating to Early Childhood Education, 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 AFL-CIO President, Ben Johnson, paid the Senator a visit and issued a not very subtle threat to the Senator regarding his future 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.

This year, however, the efforts to force a union on childcare providers continues apace. Senator Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, the chairman of the Education Committee has indicated that early education unionization will be one of his top priorities this year. McCormack believes the bill creates good policy, and he shared the fatuous belief that “collective bargaining is a fundamental human right.” But that’s not all the condescending Senator has to say. “…these people – overwhelmingly women – who do this important work ought to have the power that comes with the union.”

Well, as it turns out “these people” are actually small business owners, not defenseless damsels in distress, and if the Senator would take the time to listen, he’d realize they want no part of an initiative that is clearly a brazen money grab by the AFT. But contempt seems to be more McCormack’s style, at least where opposing viewpoints on this issue are concerned. Last year, after the measure failed, his distain was on full display after a meeting at the statehouse that was attended by unionization opponents wearing t-shirts that read “I Already Have A Voice”. His supercilious comments were quoted in Vermont Business magazine and elsewhere: “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.”

McCormack’s words articulate quite clearly his patronizing attitude toward a hardworking, independent segment of the Vermont business community, and are indicative of an ongoing problem with the political culture in Montpelier. In this case the “people who have the money” happens to be the state. This is a disturbing indication of McCormack’s attitude toward Vermont’s citizens, business people and taxpayers.

Elsa Bosma runs Puddle Jumpers Child Care in Shelburne, and is leading voice in opposition to unionization. Bosma says that, as a whole, she is not against unions, but they have no place in an independent contractors business model. Right now, according to Bosma, the childcare providers have no trouble bargaining with the state, or talking to their legislators about the issues that affect their businesses and the children they care for. Last year she 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.

This year, Bosma is ready to re-engage in the battle. She believes that this is a Constitutional issue, and that a union would violate the providers right to petition, and their right to free speech. Childcare providers would no longer have direct access to legislators, but would have to negotiate through a third party. She believes, regardless of McCormack’s low opinion, that the voices of Vermont’s childcare providers are strong, and that there has historically been a great deal of respect and consideration for their concerns.

Bosma points out that, as independent contractors, Vermont’s childcare providers set their own rates, hours and business models. “The union says they will increase subsidies but that will benefit the family, not the provider.” Adding in union dues, says Bosma, will result in a net loss to providers, causing many to raise rates to cover the loss of income that will go into the union coffers.