ST. PAUL, MN—The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota has obtained a memo distributed to DFL members of the Minnesota House of Representatives that provides a rare behind-the-scenes view of DFL strategy on one of the most divisive issues facing the state—whether and how to unionize Minnesota’s 11,000 in-home licensed childcare providers.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have asked Governor Dayton to use his executive powers to assist their drive to organize the independent child care providers into bargaining units.
The document, however, indicates there are numerous questions on the legality of this proposed unionization and the DFL author of the memo expresses wariness over a potential public relations minefield. “These unanswered questions should not necessarily foreclose the possibility of a union, but they will have to be answered before a union of child care providers is up-and-running.”
The memo highlights several controversial policy options. The document:
Concedes that Minnesota law does not provide a clear basis for unionizing independent contractors such as childcare providers;
Discusses possible tax increases to increase state childcare subsidies;
Acknowledges the possibility of forcing non-union members to pay fair-share fees;
Raises the possibility of compensating labor unions directly with state funding intended to subsidize low-income childcare.
DFL strategists clearly see a need to get the volatile issue under control, noting that union representatives have admitted “they ‘screwed up’ by allowing opponents to frame the issue”.
The document states that “existing Minnesota (and federal) law relating to labor unions…would not apply to a “union” of child care providers. Such a union would largely be venturing into unchartered (sic) territory.”
Governor Dayton may lack authority to issue an executive order for the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) to hold a union election, according to the analysis. It states that “proponents might have a point as the chapters of law dealing with BMS are generally restricted to the employee-employer environment.”
A concern over declining union membership and the need to target a new segment of the private sector workforce—independent contractors—also surfaces as a concern. “Representatives from AFSCME and SEIU emphasize that organizing independent contractors for collective bargaining may become commonplace in the future. With the decline of the traditional union workplace, a union of independent contractors might become a new kind of organizing for a new economy.”
It also leaves on the table the possibility of “many providers throughout the state being forced to pay union membership dues (or fair share dues) even if they do not belong to a union or support unionization.”
Under one scenario presented union dues could come directly from taxpayer subsidies for low-income children, an approach taken in other states. “If the biggest contribution of unions is increasing the CCAP subsidy, this approach might make sense. Federal law, however, prohibits any federal money for child care subsidies being used for things like union dues.”
In a section labeled “political fallout”, the memo candidly says “proponents of unionization, Governor Dayton and DFLers have already experienced a great deal of pushback from the media and the public on this issue. To a large degree, much of this is because Republicans have been effective at framing (or misframing) the issue.” Regardless of their strategy, “DFLers will at least want to reframe the issue and clear up the misperceptions.”