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Child-Care Workers Aim to Unionize, Face Opposition, Study States

Home-based child-care workers that receive state funding now have the right to unionize in 14 states—up from only seven in 2007—but the movement is encountering more active opposition than in years past, a study released this month by the Washington-based National Women's Law Center states.

While workers at state-funded operations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island gained the right to negotiate with states over the past few years, those living in Maine, Michigan, and Wisconsin had their authority to do so recently revoked, the report entitled "Getting Organized: Unionizing Home-Based Child Care Providers, 2013 Update," says.

Such workers in Illinois, Iowa, Oregon, and Washington all held the rights to organize prior to 2007, the study states.

"Unionization has helped home-based child-care workers, and in some cases the child-care workforce as a whole, secure better and more regular compensation, expanded access to training, and other benefits," said Helen Blank, the director of child care and early learning for the nonprofit, in an e-mail interview. "The setbacks ... are more related to challenges to collective bargaining rights generally."

The movement was first studied by the NWLC in February of 2007 when it offered "a promising strategy for improving the treatment of these providers and increasing support for child care more generally," the study states.

Such workers were—and continue to be—poorly paid, Blank said, earning between $6,209 annually in New Mexico and $16,637 annually in Washington.

By unionizing, child-care workers are offered "better and more regular compensation, more efficient payment procedures, a process for resolving grievances, greater access to training, and a stronger voice in rulemaking," the report says. Such changes "are essential to improving the child-care system, not only for providers but also for the children and families they serve."

While organizing continues to offer such benefits, the political climate today has shifted greatly since 2007, the first time NWLC measured gains, the study states. The nonprofit examined executive orders issued or reversed, legislation enacted or repealed, legislation passed but not enacted, and court rulings.

Today, there is "more active opposition ... related to broader anti-union activity," the report says.

Among the findings:

  • Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island enacted legislation authorizing home-based child care providers to organize and negotiate with the state for the first time.
  • Minnesota enacted legislation authorizing such organizing, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit stayed the operation of the law pending a decision in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a similar statute involving personal-care providers.
  • New Jersey codified the authority of workers that had earlier been granted by executive order.
  • Maine, Michigan, and Wisconsin revoked the authority previously granted to home-based child care providers to organize and negotiate with the state as part of broader efforts to limit workers' collective bargaining power at the state level.
  • Ohio enacted legislation that would have stripped workers of their ability to organize, but it was repealed by referendum.
  • California passed legislation allowing organizing, but it was vetoed by the governor.

"Whether the movement can continue to grow," Blank said, "depends on how the Supreme Court decides a case involving the bargaining rights of home care workers." 

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