The Minnesota State Senate voted 35-32 today to pass S.F. 778, which would enable independent day care operators and personal care attendants who serve customers that receive state subsidies to organize unions. All Republicans in the chamber, including Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen, voted against the bill as did four DFL Senators (Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka, Melisa Franzen of Edina, Greg Clausen of Apple Valley, and Bev Scalze of Little Canada). The bill now moves to the House; which is expected to take up the bill on Saturday. It appears that there are sufficient votes in the House to pass the bill, which Governor Mark Dayton has indicted he would sign.
Republicans in the Senate subjected the bill to 17 hours of debate, reflecting the highly controversial nature of the bill. Unionization of such persons would be a different model than the traditional form of labor union, where employees organize and collectively bargain with their employers. If the union were to be approved in this case, independent day care operators and personal care attendants — who generally function as small businesses of their own or independent contractors — would have a union to work on their behalf in St. Paul, bargaining with state agencies on work rules and regulations and lobbying legislators on reimbursement rates. Care workers who provide services to clients that receive state subsidies but who vote against the union would be subject to “fair share” dues to cover a portion of the costs of the union’s representation as they would benefit from whatever changes the union negotiates.
Republicans have objected to the redefinition of the traditional union relationship introduced by this bill. Additionally, they point out that in some cases AFSCME Council 5 — which is seeking to represent the day care workers — would end up negotiating with other AFSCME employees over work rules.
These are indeed valid concerns — and that’s coming from someone who generally finds themselves in labor’s camp on these sorts of issues. The much-derided federal Employee Free Choice Act had a number of good reforms in it, for instance — such as equalizing the standards for certifying and decertifying unions and improving enforcement of certification elections.
But S.F. 778 feels like a step too far.
That’s not to say, though, that independent day care operators and personal care attendants don’t have valid concerns. Day care subsidies were cut by 2% in the last budget cycle, passing increased bills to strapped working class families and forcing hard decisions on providers of day care services. Personal care attendants, meanwhile, are besieged by low pay, long hours, and physically demanding work. They deserve better from state government than what they have received in recent years.
DFL majorities in the Legislature should focus on passing those reforms into law this session as opposed to passing a bill that looks like political payback. There’s no reason that we can’t increase reimbursement rates and address a number of the work rule issues that would be of great benefit to these vital workers. And if Republicans come back in the future and want to undo those changes, it shouldn’t be politically difficult to hammer them for it.
[Picture is S.F. 778 author Sandy Pappas.]