Child-care legislation expanded to include personal-care attendants

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Legislation providing for a unionization vote among certain child care providers has been expanded to include a possible vote among personal care attendants.

Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, sat before a Senate committee on Monday (March 4) expressing delight that her personal-care-attendant bill had been blended with the child-care-provider legislation.

“I welcome the opportunity for people to get better representation,” Eaton told the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

Child care provider Cindy Bills (left) of Rosemount appeared before a Senate committee on Monday (March 4) to oppose legislation concerning possible child care provider unionization. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Child care provider Cindy Bills (left) of Rosemount appeared before a Senate committee on Monday (March 4) to oppose legislation concerning possible child care provider unionization. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Personal care attendants providing assistance to individuals in programs covered by state Medical Assistance would be included in a potential unionization vote.

As with the child care providers, the path involves the union collecting cards or indications of support from providers,

This could set in motion an election should at least 10 percent of  providers indicate a desire to be represented by a union.

Sen, Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Park, has blended her legislation dealing with the possible unionization of personal care attendants with a bill dealing with potential unionization of child care providers. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Sen, Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, has blended her legislation dealing with the possible unionization of personal care attendants with a bill dealing with potential unionization of child care providers. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Darleen Henry, of Rosemount, a personal care provider, spoke of life greatly changing after her mother had a stroke — the 23-year-old daughter is a care giver for her mother.

“Right now as it stands, I have no voice,” Henry said of rules and regulations affecting personal care attendants.

Things could only get better with a union, Henry said.

Unionization would not interfere in any way the right of those receiving personal care to select, hire, fire, or otherwise direct the actions of their personal care attendants, say bill authors.

But the bulk of the committee hearing centered on the child care providers.  The legislation potentially would allow  some 9,000 licensed and unlicensed providers who care for children receiving state subsidies to vote on unionization.

About 90 minutes of testimony were heard, with emotions bare on both sides.

“There is nothing stopping Minnesota,” Eliot Seide,  executive director of the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5, said of Minnesota joining 16 other states with child-care-provider unionization.

The union, he argued, needn’t be the only association representing child care providers — they can join any number of groups, he explained.

“We don’t discourage that,” Seide said.

But about a dozen child care providers appeared before the committee — Cindy Bills, the wife of former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kurt Bills,  being one — to vigorously argue against unionization.

Kelly Heaton, a Ham Lake child care provider, portrayed unionization as erasing the gains the child care industry has made.

“I am not an employee of the state. I am a small business owner,” she said.

Becky Swanson, a child care provider from Lakeville, like other bill opponents, stressed that child care providers were independent business people.

“The union did not build my reputation,” she said.

Opponents also expressed chagrin that licensed and unlicensed child care providers were lumped together in the bill.

One opponent argued the unlicensed providers were included simply as a means of engineering a favorable vote.

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, the Senate bill author, conceded basic philosophical differences exist on the question of unionization.

This is “new territory,” Pappas said of the potential unionization of child care and personal care attendants.

It’s understandable it’s emotional, she said.

Republicans on the committee were unsympathetic.

Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, portrayed the legislation as a plan to “siphon off” dues for the union from small business.

He called it “the biggest union power grab” in recent times, a comment that drew a rebuke from a Democratic senator concerned about keeping Senate decorum,

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, attempted to table the bill — a parliamentary maneuver to stop progress — and offered an amendment to remove providers not interested in joining the union from paying dues.

But both actions failed on party-line votes.

Because committee members had other committees to attend, the bill was set aside.

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com.

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