by Angela Chagnon
Committee member Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) asked Kristin Warner if postcards that had been delivered to Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington), Chair of Human Services, were from supporters or were from people merely looking for more information.
“3200 postcards were delivered to Representative Pugh,” said Warner. She noted that there were many different types of postcards the AFT had circulated, but that the “representational card” supporting H.97 had come out in December. She said that the cards were clearly marked as such.
Ellen Drolette, a home-based childcare provider in Burlington, said that those 3200 postcards were not all signed by H.97 supporters.
Representatives of the AFT went door-to-door to talk to family childcare providers, bringing with them postcards for the providers to sign “for more information”, according to Drolette.
“People who signed the postcard to get more information [about H.97] found their names on lists of providers supporting the bill,” recounted Drolette. She said that many providers were upset about being tricked into signing the postcards.
Mary Alice McKenzie, the Executive Director of the Burlington Boys and Girls Club, confirms the reports. She said that the AFT have also held meetings about unionization and invited childcare providers to attend.
“Providers have shown up signing postcards for information, and their signatures have been used by the AFT to show support [for H.97],” she said.
Drolette is not in favor of H.97, and she said that she is not alone in her opposition. “The providers I’m in contact with are not in support of it, they have gone and testified against it,” she stated. “I don’t know a lot that are in support.”
She said that she felt the union was unnecessary. “I am one of the providers that is at the table, I am talking to legislators and state officials,” she remarked. “I don’t want to lose the voice that I have, I feel that I do have a voice.”
Although she personally did not feel pressured by the AFT to support H.97, Drolette said that the strong sales pitch they delivered to providers may have swayed some.
“When I have had conversations with them, they definitely are trained to speak a certain way,” she disclosed. “They say ‘don’t you want the best for children’ and get you to say ‘yes yes yes’, which is true that we want the best for children, but we don’t want to join a union.”
“I have a strong voice, and I have a strong opinion,” Drolette continued. “However, I can see where people who are isolated, may feel more apt to let somebody in their program and listen to what they have to say.”
Drolette said that childcare is a low paying job and many providers don’t have any benefits, which could result in some providers who are being promised such things to support unionization efforts.
“They’re going to isolated programs and they’re making promises that they can’t keep,” she said.
Drolette’s opinion of H.97? “If anything, this would put a divide into the childcare industry.”