by Chrissy Wade
The house was quiet, and finally all six sweet children were sleeping peacefully on their nappy pads when a loud knock rapped on my door. At first glance I thought it was the Child Development Division’s Licensing agents out to do their routine visits ensuring that I was within all the regulation requirements for a registered home child care. Soon I was informed that these were union workers who were undergoing an effort to unionize home providers like myself. They told me that the Union would give me a better voice at the table. They wanted to help us, and provide professional development opportunities for us. They would work to raise the state subsidy so we would be paid better. It all sounded nice and so I signed a card showing interest in more information. They came a couple of other times as well and I recieved a handful of phone calls looking for my support in their cause.
Later I noticed that some Vermont child care providers were taking a stand against the Union. My first thought was “Why would anyone want to stop the providers from forming a Union if they wanted too?” The research began. I found this to be a very controversal subject. The most important part is that we keep the children, parents, and providers best interests at heart. What I have come to learn has created a spark in me to fight. For what? For my unique voice to remain at the table with my lawmakers, with other state agencies who have already invited me. I do not wish to have to go through the Union, and let them determine if my concern is of their concern and worthy of negotiation. The state of Vermont is undergoing the process of creating new child care regulations over the next year. They have made this an extremely inclusive process, and many child care providers, directers of centers, teachers and special educators, concerned citizens and parents, are all involved in this work. The union, if this H.97 bill passed, would be the “exclusive representative” for child care workers in communications with the state about quality incentives, reimbursement rates, and professional development regulations.
The VEEU-AFT (Union) organizing committee published a poster where it states” H.97 does not exist without controversy. Those who are opposed believe that if given the chance, providers would bargain to reduce quality and harm the children and families we’ve dedicated our lives to.” This is preposterous! We are quality nurturing child care providers who do not wish to be taken advantage of by the union.
As for raising the subsidy rates and improving quality…First of all the vast majority of child care providers must charge a co payment to anyone who is eligable for subsidy if the subsidy does not cover the full amount of their childs care. We do not make extravagent wages, and we work very hard for them in a field of work that is critically important…young children. Most would agree that subsidy rates should be raised as it would benefit parents with their child care payments. This does not neccasarily benefit the provider, and it certainly does not improve the quality of child care. The increase in subsidy would benefit the Union however if they got their hooks into it as this is where they would collect there dues…directly out of our hard earned checks from the state. We are a band of small private businesses. This seems invasive and unacceptable. The state of Vermont already has the ability to raise reimbursement rates and subsidies of home based child care today. If the legislature and the governor want that to happen, they can appropriate the money. We can petition for it. They have been raised in the past without union intervention. Even if subsidy rates were increased, having to pay dues and/or agency fees, will still result in a net loss out of my bottom line. How will this increase my quality? In other states that have unionized home childcare providers, dues range from $500 to $900 yearly. An increase this large in my budget would require a rate increase for my families, something I try hard to avoid.
They say that we do not have to join. Apparently in their pamphlet titled “A different type of union for early childhood educators.” it states “H.97 does not force anyone to join the union, but simply allows the workforce to decide on their own through a democratic process governed by the Vermont Labor Relations Board.” This I believe really means that if they convince enough of us that it is good then it will happen. For those of us who disagree, we would still be forced to pay signifigant agency fees. We would still be forced to give “exclusive representation” to those we do not trust. How is this not being forced to join?
These union “professionals” are backed by the influence and money of the American Federation of Teachers. They have the time and the resources to convince many unsuspecting child care providers that their agenda will benefit them. They are hired and sent to rally the troops and persuade our lawmakers. Those of us who disagree and want to inform people about the very real potential negative aspects of this bill, have to pay substitutes out of our pockets, stretch our time and energy, and remain professional with aggresive and seasoned Union workers, who have been noted to prove intimidating and evasive.
As a quality provider for 9 years in Waterville, with four of my own children, I have found the opportunities for professional development to be in abundance. The Family Center (who openly remains neutral regarding the union controversy) does a fantastic job creating informative, relative, enriching classes that improve our knowledge and quality of childcare that we offer. There are many other substantial courses and classes through CCV and other colleges/ organizations that offer incredible professional development opportunities at reasonable rates and sometimes with scholorships. There is the Starting Points Networks that consist of area providers who set up localized trainings based on our own needs and interests that is funded through grants. The local networks also provide a great support system. In addition, there are grants available for us to purchase equipment that will enhance our program through local projects such as the birth to three project.
It was exhilarating to join Elsa Oppenheimer, the woman who is at the fore front of this non unionized childcare effort at her display table on Wednesday, March 15th at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier for the annual Early Childhood Day at the Legislature. We had many individuals from various organizations who quietly expressed their support of our effort, but could not do so openly, due to their individual stance reflecting on their employers. It was inspiring to see all of the people who work with young children gathering together with a common goal of improvement of quality for our children. I believe this is at the heart of all of the childcare providers, early educators and even the lawmakers in the state of Vermont. The controversy is how to acheive this. I am not convinced that the union agenda has its heart in the right place. From discussions I have had with providers all over the state, I am not alone in my belief that unionizing childcare providers would be to the detriment of the home childcare business and the hard working families who run them in Vermont. I urge my senators, please vote against this bill! On Thursday March 22, there will be a meeting consisting only of Lamoille county providers and parents with Richard Westman, where we will discuss our concerns. Those who are for and against the union (as long as they are providers or parents) are welcome to attend for a peaceful and rich discussion. It will be held at the Green Mountain Tech Center in Hyde Park at 6:30 pm.
Chrissy Wade- Earth Family Childcare in Waterville