Democrats in the Legislature say they want to help day care workers. But the way they’re going about it has a lot to do with helping unions and themselves.
Lawmakers are poised to give child care center owners and workers who care for low-income children collective bargaining rights. The legislation could add 12,000 members to the growing ranks of state-paid vendors who bargain with the state.
Behind the proposal is the politically powerful Service Employees International Union, which has grown its ranks and coffers in recent years by winning bargaining rights for 28,000 home health care workers and 10,000 in-home day care providers.
The SEIU won an $85 million increase in day care subsidies last year. The higher reimbursement rates benefited both in-home day cares and day care centers; now it’s time for the centers to pay up.
Under the arrangement for in-home day cares, the state automatically deducts union dues from the providers’ state reimbursements — to the tune of $3 million under the contract negotiated last year. The situation would be the same for day care centers.
That’s money that could otherwise go one of two places: to other state programs or to the day care providers who need the help.
No wonder then that some day care centers are saying no thanks to unionization by fiat. They rightly point out that a union doesn’t have to be involved for the Legislature to do better by day care centers who care for low-income children.
If lawmakers are serious about making child care a more viable business, they can skip the union middleman and simply increase state reimbursements.
For the Democrats, there are a couple of problems with that tack. It doesn’t lock the Legislature into future bumps in reimbursement rates like collective bargaining does. That should be considered a good thing – the state is facing a massive budget shortfall in the next biennium – if not for the reality that bypassing the union would tick off one of the state’s biggest political spenders.
Democrats have good reason to fear the monster they’ve helped create. In 2004, the SEIU and its allies spent $275,000 trying to unseat Democratic state Rep. Helen Sommers, the Legislature’s senior budget writer. Sommers’ sin? Concentrating too hard on plugging a $2.6 billion budget hole and not enough on giving SEIU’s home health care workers bigger raises.
There is no question that quality child care is an important piece of early childhood development, and that improving pay is one way to attract good people to the field. But lawmakers don’t need to help a union grow to accomplish those aims.