Ramsey County judge blocks vote on child care provider unionization

Gov. Dayton says he respects court’s decision

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Ramsey County District Court Judge Dale Lindman on Monday, Dec. 5 blocked a proposed child care unionization vote scheduled to be held within a few days.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton by executive order recently put the election into motion. But opponents say the governor has no right, in part arguing such an action rightly belongs to the Legislature.
In statement, Dayton said he respected the court decision.
“I am pleased the court was clear that I did not misuse my authority in issuing the executive order,” Dayton said. “I continue to believe that in a democracy, people should have rights to elections to determine their own destinies.”
Dayton said he would meet with the state attorney general’s office to decide what steps should be taken next.
The unionization vote would affect about 4,300 Minnesota at-home child care providers who accept state-subsidized children.
Lisa Thompson, a St. Paul child care provider and pro-vote activist, said she was “real surprised” by the restraining order because similar unionization votes had taken place successfully in other states.
Thompson was critical of Republicans — Senate Republicans last week approved the filing of a friend of the court brief supportive of the lawsuit filed by a group of child care providers opposing the vote — saying she did not believe Republicans had her best interests as a child care provider in mind.
“There is no predetermined agenda,” Thompson said, asked what a child care providers’ union would push for if formed. The agenda would emerge the members, she said.
But one thing child care providers already share is a desire to be heard, Thompson said.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 284 Executive Director Carol Nieters charged that on the eve of an important vote conservative corporate interests and their “lapdogs” in the Legislature threw a wrench into the wheels of democracy.
“This sham lawsuit and their entire campaign of misinformation is just another example of the vicious attacks on working families by national corporate interests and the politicians who do their bidding.  From Ohio to Wisconsin and New Hampshire to Minnesota, the story is the same: they will stop at nothing to deny working people the right to form a union for a voice in our democracy,” she said.
The lawsuit was backed by Minnesota Majority, the Minnesota Free Market Institute and other groups.
Pat Gentz, a Lakeville child care provider, said opponents of the child care unionization vote were “really pleased” with the court order.
“The battle has still not been won yet,” said Gentz, noting that further legal action was possible.
Gentz was not one of the parties in the suit.
Annette Meeks, of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, said her group was pleased.
“Today’s developments are great news for the scores of childcare providers from across Minnesota who have worked tirelessly to preserve their independence and fight against a coercive and intrusive unionization scheme by the governor and labor unions,” she said in a statement.
Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, was also pleased — you never know what a court might do, he said.
Hann, who stood outside the Governor’s Office in protest the day Dayton formally announce his executive order, said he does not oppose unionization.
If a group of child care providers wanted to call themselves a union, that’s up to them, he said.
But Hann opposes Dayton’s executive order, arguing the governor breached the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
Further, Hann believes the Minnesota Senate would not approve holding a child care unionization election as proposed by the governor.
“Just because they (issues) belong there (in the Legislature), doesn’t mean we should do them,” he said.
Hann held open the possibility of a future committee hearing should Dayton advance legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, also expressed satisfaction with the order.
“The unionization of child care providers has been a long-time goal of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees) and SEIU and the governor’s attempt appears to be payoff for political support he received from those unions in the 2010 election,” Koch said in a statement.
“What we don’t need is government overreaching into an already highly and carefully regulated industry to expand the power and influence of public union organizations in the state,” she said.
Lindman’s order allows for a further hearing on Jan. 17, 2012.
Under Dayton’s executive order, state government agencies would formally acknowledge the bargaining powers of a child care union, should one have emerged from the vote, and negotiate with the union in good faith.