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Judge blocks union vote for child care providers

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Ramsey County judge on Monday blocked a unionization vote by Minnesota child care workers that was to get under way 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.

Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement from his office that he respected the court's decision. He said he asked to meet with Attorney General Lori Swanson in order to determine his next steps.

"I continue to believe that in a democracy, people should have rights to elections to determine their own destinies," Dayton 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.

Becky Swanson of Lakeville, a plaintiff and a child care provider for more than 18 years, was elated by the ruling. Swanson said she usually cares for about 10 children in her home but wouldn't have been eligible to vote because she hasn't had a subsidized child in the past year. She said she didn't see any benefit in a union.

"What is the union going to do for me?" Swanson asked. "Are they going to change my work environment? It's my home."

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.

Jennifer Munt, spokeswoman for AFSCME's Minnesota chapter, said she doubted supporters would take their case to the Legislature, saying it would likely be futile.

"The legislators who claim to be their voice are the same legislators who gave them a pay cut," Munt said. "They are the same legislators who are ignoring the parents who need subsidies for child care in order to go to work. And they're the same legislators who cut quality improvement grants for child care providers."

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


Associated Press reporter Patrick Condon contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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