Update: Judge blocks union vote for child care providers

A Ramsey County judge on Monday blocked a unionization vote by Minnesota child care workers that was to get underway this week, saying the issue must go through the state Legislature.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the Democratic governor exceeded his powers with the executive order setting up the election.

“If unionization of day care is to become the law of Minnesota, it must first be submitted to the lawmaking body of the state,” Judge Dale Lindman said after hearing three hours of testimony.

Lindman also said he was “bothered” that less than half of the state’s 11,000 in-home child care workers were eligible to vote in the election. Eligibility was extended to about 4,300 providers who are currently licensed to receive state subsidies to care for low-income children.

Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said he’s unsure what will happen with the unionization vote if it is proposed in the Legislature. Because most legislators have not been directly involved with the research behind the decision, Sparks said he doesn’t have enough information to decide if he would support a bill sent through the state Senate.

“At this point, we haven’t had enough hearings or been able to absorb enough information from both sides to make a decision,” Sparks said. “I certainly understand the importance of quality and affordable day care.”

Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, said he is glad Lindman blocked the vote to unionize. He said legislators deserve the chance to review the information before making a final decision.

“I’m just glad the judge put this temporary order in so all sides can step back and take a look at this,” Murray said. “The governor should not have the ability to unilaterally decide who’s going to be a union, especially when you’re dealing with small businesses.”

Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement Monday that he respects the court’s decision and will meet with the attorney general “to determine our next steps.” A meeting could come as early as today, a spokeswoman said.

Two Minnesota unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, had been seeking the union vote for several years. Proponents argued that providers who operate in part on state subsidies had the right to organize and bargain with state agencies over subsidy rates as well as other rules and regulations governing in-home care.

But critics said many providers ineligible to participate in the vote would still be affected by many of the matters that would have bargained between a child care workers union and the state. The plaintiffs were a group of child care providers with assistance from a coalition of conservative-leaning groups.

Sparks said he’s talked to some local day care providers about their thoughts on unionization, and people he’s spoken with are passionate on both sides of the issue.

While Lindman’s ruling pushed the issue into the hands of lawmakers, it’s unlikely Republicans who currently control the state House and Senate would oblige the unionization drive. Multiple legislative leaders criticized Dayton for ordering the union vote, and lawyers for the Republican Senate majority even filed a brief supporting the lawsuit.

Ballots were to be mailed out starting Tuesday and would have been tallied on Dec. 22.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin was unavailable for comment.

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