Law Allowing Day Care Workers to Unionize Passes After Ugly Debate

On the final day of the 2013 Legislature — and by the narrowest of margins after hours of fierce debate — the DFL-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill allowing state-subsidized home child-care workers and personal care attendants the right to join a union.

The landmark legislation — previously approved by the Minnesota Senate — passed 68-66 on a mostly party-line vote (five Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the measure) and now goes to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk for his signature.

“I have waited so long for this day,” said home child care worker Marline Blake after the vote was taken.
“This is the best thing since sliced bread,” she said, her voice almost drowned out by fellow union members cheering in the Capitol hallway.

Throngs of supporters and opponents turned out to give lawmakers a piece of their minds as the House debated for several hours on the bill. As legislators cast their vote, cheers from union members in the galleries clashed with jeers from the House floor as angry Republican lawmakers shouted objections to the bill and complained — in the loud words of one Republican — that the unions control the DFL majorities in the Legislature.

Demonstrations in the galleries overlooking the House chambers violate House rules, and House Speaker Paul Thissen tried, in vain, to gavel the union cheering to a stop. That was followed by a bitter remark, into a microphone, that shattered whatever was left of Legislative decorum as time, and patience ran out:

“Let ‘em cheer,’ Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington said sarcastically after the vote, drawing Democratic objections. “They own the place.”

That outburst typified the divisive tone the debate took over the last few days of the session. Opponents of the law charged that state dollars would go to union coffers in the form of member dues. But, DFL Rep. Michael V. Nelson, Brooklyn Park, one of the bill’s supporters, denied the charge, pointing out that the bill merely lets low-paid care attendants and child-care workers decide if they wish to seek collective bargaining representation and join a union.

The choice is theirs.

“Once the child-care workers or personal care attendant earns that money, it’s their choice with what to do with it,” Nelson said during the House debate.

DFL Sen. Sandy Pappas of St. Paul sponsored the bill in the Senate. After Monday’s vote, she and Nelson greeted supporters in the Capitol hallways to celebrate and joined in on a rendition of the old union anthem, “Solidarity Forever.”

“A few thousand workers get to decide about their future and their destiny,” said Pappas as she and Nelson hugged and celebrated with hundreds of AFSCME and SEIU members who jammed the halls.

“The hard work for them begins now,” said Nelson.

“Once the governor signs it, they (workers) are going to have to do the hard work to get enough signatures…to get to a (union) election and then to win the election. They’re going to do that hard work.

“What we did comparatively is easy.”

That’s hard work Karla Scapanski is willing to do. As a home day care provider, she was overwhelmed and excited by the bill’s passage.

“The more we get together and stand up for what’s important, the stronger we are,” Scapanski said. “We got to get the word out to the people, that from here on out the harder we work at something and stand together, we’re going to make it for ourselves,” she said.

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Allison Herrera

Allison Herrera, originally from San Luis Obispo, Calif.,  studied media and Spanish at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where she earned her bachelor s. Since moving to the Twin Cities, she has been a news producer for KFAI Fresh Air Community Radio, communications coordinator for Twin Cities Public Television's arts series MN Original, and producer for the Association of Minnesota Public and Educational Radios Stations for the series MN90: Minnesota History in 90 Seconds.

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