Push To Unionize Child Care Workers Is Renewed

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(Host) Child care providers who want to form a union took their case to the Legislature on Friday. They say children would be better served by a work force that has the right to organize for better pay and working conditions.

But as VPR’s John Dillon reports, the legislation faces an uncertain prospect in the Senate.

(Dillon) The Shumlin administration supports the union proposal. David Yacovone is commissioner of the Department of Children and Families. He says early childhood education is critical so kids enter school prepared and ready to learn. But providers, Yacavone says, are under serious financial pressure.

(Yacovone) "The industry is subsidized in large part by financing systems that pay less than a day’s wages for people. There’s some roughly -depending on how you count them – 5,500, 6,000 people working in this industry. This industry is too important not to resource the way it should be."

(Dillon) Advocates say the union they want to form is unique because its membership would include both the workers and the owners of the child care businesses.

Cathi St. Marie owns and operates Cathi’s House in North Troy. She told the Senate Economic Development Committee that her income last year was just over $12,000.

(St. Marie) "My union will be different than anything that currently exists in our field. It will be an organization that is made up of those of us who work on the front line providing care and education to our youngest children."

(Dillon) But child care providers are divided on the issue. Elsa Bosma runs Puddle Jumpers Child Care in Shelburne. She said she surveyed other home providers to find out how they feel about the union effort.

(Bosma) "And I heard overwhelmingly from people that they don’t support this bill. They don’t want to be unionized. They feel heard. They feel like they have a voice. They feel respected and listened to people with the state…. I really think that if you put this bill through you’re going to take away my individual voice."

(Dillon) Senate President John Campbell also questions if the union is needed. Campbell said the real issue is the lack of state funds to support early childhood education.

(Campbell) "If anybody knows anything about labor law, that bill will not give them anything they’re looking for. It will be a hollow victory. They’ll be able to say, ‘Yes, we are a member of the union, and yes, you can collectively bargain with the state.’ But it doesn’t give you any other rights.  And the fact of the matter is if there’s no money there, there’s no money there, whether you’re collectively bargaining or not. And quite frankly, that’s the problem: There’s no money right now at this point in time."

(Dillon) But Cathi St. Marie, the North Troy child care provider, said she and others just want the chance to negotiate with the state. She questioned why the bill faces so much opposition if the Shumlin administration’s Department of Children and Families supports it.

(St. Marie) "If the division is who we are going to be discussing things with. And the division is for us doing this. I don’t understand what the problem is."

(Dillon) A bill that passed the House last year exempts many larger child care centers from the union effort. Advocates are trying to get the bigger operations included in the Senate version of the bill.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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