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Judge cancels Minnesota child care union election

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Ramsey County judge ruled Friday that Gov. Mark Dayton violated constitutional separation of powers late last year when he called a unionization vote for home-based child care workers.

Judge Dale Lindman permanently cancelled the election, writing that if child care workers are to unionize, the election must first be authorized by the Legislature.

Dayton "is attempting to circumvent the legislative process and unionize child care providers by executive order, rather than by adhering to a valid legislative process," Lindman wrote.

Spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said Dayton disagrees with Lindman's decision but respects it. She said the administration is still reviewing the order and had no immediate comment.

Several Minnesota unions had long pursued collective bargaining rights for child care workers who receive state subsidies. But Dayton's attempt to order the election prompted a lawsuit from a group of child care providers. The election was to take place in late December, until Lindman issued a temporary injunction suspending it.

The election was to have been confined to about 4,300 providers that are currently licensed to receive state subsidies, but plaintiffs contended that another 6,700 providers ineligible to participate could nonetheless have been affected by rates and regulations bargained between a child care union and the state.

"I can't think of a better way to celebrate Easter than knowing that Judge Lindman upheld our rights and freedoms as independent licensed family child care providers," said plaintiff Hollee Saville, who runs a home child care business in St. Michael, in a press release from a conservative group that helped organize and fund the lawsuit.

Dayton, a Democrat and strong ally to unions, had said he didn't intend to take sides in the election and only wanted to give child care providers the decision of whether to unionize. But Lindman's order permanently nullifies the union election and bars Dayton's administration from further attempts to implement the executive order.

Lindman also ordered Dayton's administration to reimburse the plaintiffs' court costs and attorney fees.

In the ruling, Lindman said the administration overreached because child care providers don't have a direct employee-employer relationship with the state. He said the state Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS), which Dayton ordered to conduct the election, only has the authority to get involved with non-public workers in cases involving labor disputes between employers and employees.

"The BMS does not have authority ... to intervene," Lindman wrote.

In order for a union election, Lindman wrote, the Legislature "may advance a bill through the legislative process allowing elections of the child care providers."

That's not likely in the current Legislature. Republicans who control the House and Senate had been highly critical of Dayton's election order, with some Republican senators at one point threatening to file their own lawsuit against it.

Criticizing Dayton for what he called "unconstitutional overreach," GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers called the ruling a victory for small business.

"Lawmaking is a function solely entrusted to the Minnesota Legislature," Zellers said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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