by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
In a stormy climax, the Democratic-led House passed child care and personal care attendant unionization legislation on Monday, May 20.
The 68-66 vote brought cheers from union activists in the House gallery and catcalls from Republicans on the floor.
“Let them applaud,” a Republican shouted at House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, as the Thissen gaveled for quiet. “They own the place,” the Republican yelled.
The vote could set in motion a process by which union activists, supplied with lists from the state, would collect signatures from child care providers and personal care attendants receiving state subsides. An election, by mail ballot, would take place if at least 30 percent of providers eligible to vote indicated a wish to join a union.
Darleen Henry of Rosemount, a personal care provider since her mother suffered a stroke about two years ago, was outside the House chamber with other activists after the vote.
“I feel like I have someone who’s there for me, someone behind my back,” Henry said of a union. “I know we don’t have a union yet, but I feel it’s at least a possibility now.”
Henry views the union as a means of getting additional training.
Another activist outside the House chamber was Becky Swanson, a Lakeville child care provider. Swanson spoke of filing suit in federal court to stop the vote.
“We’ll fight this for eight years,” Swanson said.
One of the plaintiffs in the successful suit against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, when the governor attempted to call an unionization election by executive order, Swanson isn’t surprised a unionization effort is taking place in Minnesota.
“Minnesota is union-friendly state,” she said. She has nothing against unions, Swanson said, but child care providers are private businesses.
Debate on the House floor was emotional. Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said she and her husband have owned rental property and have rented to people receiving government assistance.
“Are we next?” Scott asked of possible unionization. “Are landlords next?”
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, dismissed the idea the legislation was about bettering the lives of providers and improving the quality of child care.
“It’s money. It’s all about money,” Anderson said of unions collecting dues.
House Deputy Minority Leader Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, appealed to Democrats to take a tough vote and vote “no.”
“Search your heart and your conscious,” said Loon, who recently voted to pass same-sex marriage legislation. “Be courageous,” she urged.
A handful of House Democrats, including Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, voted with Republicans against the bill. But it wasn’t enough.
Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, House bill author, said the legislation does not tell parents or providers how to raise children, nor does it form a union. It’s about getting right to vote, Nelson said.
“This bill is about ensuring the basic rights of undervalued workers to choose for themselves if they want to collectively bargain for better wages,” Nelson said in a prepared statement. “These workers, who are predominately women, now have an opportunity to bargain for improvements in their lives and the lives of the children, seniors and people with disabilities they serve,” Nelson said.
The unionization legislation passed the Democratic-led Senate on a 35-32 vote after an epic 17-hour, all-night floor session.
Area Democratic Sens. Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka, Greg Clausen of Apple Valley, Melisa Franzen of Edina and Bev Scalze of Little Canada sided with Republicans in voting against the bill.
Speaking after the House floor session, Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, said bill opponents were carefully monitoring the legislative debate for possible inclusion into a lawsuit.
Mack felt they would have a good case. Mack, who has a young son and is pregnant, spoke on the House floor about her family’s concerns with day care. Her heart breaks, she said, for the mothers receiving Child Care Assistance Program funding, a state subsidy.
Like other Republicans, Mack believes day care providers, in attempting to escape the union, will simply refuse to accept children receiving state subsides.
“They (CCAP mothers) will be rejected time after time after time,” she said.
All told, Minnesota had 351,000 wage and salary workers in unions in 2012 with another 17,000 represented by a union on their main job or covered by an employee association or contract, though not union members themselves, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Union membership is heavily skewed towards the public sector. Nationally about 36 percent of public sector employees belonged to unions, against only about 6.6 percent of workers in the private sector, according to the Bureau.
About 57 percent of Minnesota public sector jobs were unionized in 2012, according to unionstats.com, an Internet data resource providing private and public sector labor union membership and density estimates. Only about 8 percent of Minnesota private sector jobs were unionized, according to the site.
The union legislation now goes to the governor’s desk.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]