Vermont Child Care Workers Could Be Forced to Pay Dues

Vermont  House of Representatives has passed a bill which would force child care workers to pay dues to a uinon in order to remain in business.  The agency shop clause would be a mandatory subject for bargaining, which means union bosses could give up all other perks in order to get agency shop included in a contract.  Hilary Niles has the story in

Child care unionization got a final green light from the House Tuesday afternoon. The bill now goes to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is expected to sign it.

By a vote of 78-59, the House agreed to give small, independent providers the option to collectively bargain for state subsidies they receive on behalf of children from low-income families. Because the payments flow from state coffers, the child care providers cannot unionize without the state’s permission.

Most debate regarding the bill Tuesday surrounded the “agency fee,” or the amount of money child care providers would be required to pay into a union regardless of membership. The question is purely hypothetical, as a majority of child care providers would first have to vote to form a collective bargaining unit in order for the agency fee question to come up.

The collective bargaining unit would consist of all child care providers who agree to accept the state subsidy, whether or not they are union members.

The agency fee is a portion of union membership — typically between 75 percent and 85 percent of full dues. Non-members are allowed to pay just a portion so as not to fund political activities they may not support.

An amendment to make the agency fee optional was shot down Tuesday.

“I believe that if people do want to form a union, they should be able to,” said Rep. Robert Bouchard, R-Colchester. But people should not be forced to pay the agency fees, he said.

Bouchard said providers may be discouraged from caring for subsidized children if they are required to pay agency fees out of the meager reimbursements the state now pays.

But the same potentiality of diminished child care options was offered as a reason to vote for the bill during the Democratic caucus earlier Tuesday.

“I believe eventually this program will come to a crisis as more and more people won’t do it if we don’t provide them more money,” said. Rep. Curtis McCormack, D/W-Burlington. He reasoned that, with collective bargaining power, the providers would be more likely to secure higher reimbursement rates for their services.

Union dues typically comprise between 1 percent and 2 percent of the rates in question, according to Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, who reported the bill favorably to the House chamber.

Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, R/D-Newport, said whatever collective bargaining unit may form “can negotiate until the cows come home.” But even if they do reach an agreement with the state’s executive branch, he noted, it still will be up to the Legislature to approve and fund the deal.

“It’s asking us to save ourselves from ourselves. ‘Stop me before I underfund child care one more time,’” Rep. Adam Greshin, I-Warren, argued against S.316. He said the subsidy rates belong in lawmakers’ budgeting process, not in collective bargaining.

Assuming Shumlin signs the bill into law, as he is likely to do, eligible child care providers will have the option of voting whether or not to form a bargaining unit. The state’s Labor Relations Board would be in charge of administering their election.

If they choose to do so, any union could petition to act as the unit’s sole representative in collective bargaining. The winning union and the state would be required to negotiate on agency fees, but they would not necessarily have to set any.

The recently unionized home health workers and the potentially unionized child care workers would be unique in this regard. Most other labor relations acts in the state — for example for state employees, teachers and private sector employees — mandate agency fees upfront, according to Labor Relations Board executive director Tim Noonan.

If the union and the state were to set agency fees, all child care providers who accept subsidized children would be charged according to the amount of subsidies they accept.