National push to organize childcare providers has implications in Vermont

by Angela Chagnon

A national push by unions to unionize childcare providers has resulted in 14 states doing just that (13 now that Michigan’s law has been overturned).

Here in Vermont, the AFT is using a study done by the pro-childcare provider union National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) to illustrate the “need” for childcare workers to unionize. (The Center’s website has a section about their “agenda” for “high-quality child care.”)

The NWLC also supports state-run Pre-K programs funded by taxpayer dollars. A transcript from a March 25, 2008 conference call revealed that an initial Pre-K pilot program in Pennsylvania cost $75 million for 11,000 children from 2007-2008.

On January 9 2003, a conference hosted by the Labor Project for Working Families took place in California. A report on the conference by the Institute of Industrial Relations at University of California in Berkely revealed that “ACORN is organizing family child care providers in five communities[.]” (p.1).

Several years after this conference took place, the taxpayer-funded ACORN was found to be involved in illegal activities and subsequently defunded by Congress.

The report goes on to list four other activities being done by unions to organize childcare workers, and contains short summaries of the conference speakers’ presentations:

New Models of Unionism

Steve Herzenberg, Labor Economist Executive Director of Keystone Research Center in Pennsylvania

“Post-New Deal, the next new model for an egalitarian social structure can only come about with a new upsurge of unionism, and union organizing in low-wage industries must be a central feature.” (p.3)

Jeff Grabelsky, Labor Economist Cornell University

“The “persuasion of power” could also be a key principle in child care organizing: there remains a strong need for convincing child care workers of their own potential power and influence, and how much they have in common with other low-wage workers.” (p.5-6)

The suggested “proposal[s] for reform” included:

· “Direct incentives to unionization through the reimbursement system, as in the nursing home industry” (p. 7)

· “[t]he state, or preferably an intermediary entity, would be the employer, rate setter, health insurance provider, mechanism for dispute resolution, etc.” (p.7)

The entire, insightful 9-page report can be found here.

During a Winter Legislative Meeting in Washington, D.C. held in January of this year, AFLCIO President Richard Trumka stated:

“Roll up your sleeves! Because it’s time to go to work! For two years, our opponents have had the luxury of standing on the outside, and shouting in.

Now, they’re on the inside, and we can see them for what they are. Mean. Spiteful. And small-minded. But we have to paint that picture for our members who’re less active, for our neighbors and friends who’re less aware.”

And the AFT is doing just that with those who oppose H.97, the childcare unionization bill, here in Vermont.

Kristin Warner of the AFT accused opponents of the bill of using “misconceptions” and “trigger language” to stir people up against the bill. Pam White, a member of the AFT-based Vermont Early Educators United, said that, “some of the statements [by opponents] are intended to create confusion and fear.”

White also said in her April 19th testimony that “[t]hose who oppose now will join” when they see the benefits of such a union.

When childcare centers objected to being included in the union and were removed from the bill by the Human Services Committee, Andrew Tripp, Executive Director of AFT-Vermont, said in an April 8th Rutland Herald article:

“It is extremely disappointing, and makes little sense, that child care centers were excluded; it leaves too many children, through their providers, without a voice. The voice that appeared to ring the loudest with the legislators was from the large corporate-like centers in Chittenden County, who used their limited resources to hire lobbyists to silence the voices of the smaller centers with fewer resources.” (emphasis added)

It should be noted that no other state with a childcare union law has included childcare centers in the union membership.

In her testimony to the General, Housing and Military Committee on April 20, Kim Grenier, a teacher in Pittsford, claimed that “H.97 doesn’t guarantee anything other than a seat at the table.” Supporters of H.97, mostly members of the AFT, emphasize that H.97 is not about money but about “respect” and “giving a voice to childcare providers”.

A pro-childcare union article written in November 2009 by Julie Waters talks about the AFT’s attempts to organize child care workers in Vermont. She lists four “potential” actions a union could do for childcare providers, but to “give them a solid voice” is listed next to last at number 3. Most interesting is reason #1, which reads:

“[A]llow them to respond with force to attempts on the part of the state of Vermont to limit their benefits without due process”. (emphasis added)

Mary Alice McKenzie, Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club, says that the public union created in H.97 “pits private businesses against the state” and will be bargaining over and funded by taxpayer money.

The bill states that only 30% of childcare providers are needed to form the union. McKenzie sees this as a potential problem.

“Seventy percent of childcare providers will be bound by whatever the thirty percent negotiates,” said McKenzie.

During her testimony to the committee last week, Mary Burns, President of the Greater Burlington YMCA, stated:

“[W]e agree that child care professionals deserve a strong voice and more respect. However, the legislation that is being discussed, H.97, is not the answer. It would needlessly expand government, at a time when our state cannot afford it, and provide little or no benefit to Vermont’s children, families, and child care providers.”

She concluded, “This bill will harm child care quality, not improve it.”