Senate committee votes down child care unionization bill

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland
Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland

In a surprise move, a state Senate committee voted 3 to 2 Tuesday to reject a long-proposed and controversial piece of legislation that would allow child care workers to unionize. The move could doom prospects for a standalone bill this year.

Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Washington, who co-sponsored the bill, cast an unexpected, decisive vote against the legislation in the Senate Economic Development Committee. He described it as a difficult decision to make.

“It caught my attention that the only people that could vote for the union would be those who are subsidized by the state,” Doyle told VTDigger on Tuesday afternoon. “There’s not a lot of give and take when some of the people opposed to this union are not at the table.”

Doyle voted in favor of similar legislation last year, but said that this time, because only select groups of people could cast the initial vote deciding among child care workers whether there’d be a union, he’d shifted his position.

“It’s not that I’m not interested in child care,” Doyle said. The Senate’s senior most member toured around central Vermont just last week with a pro-union organizer, visiting child care providers. He touted his own labor-friendly record, and added that he’d even back increased state subsidies for child care workers, under the right circumstances.

Advocates for the legislation were puzzled by Doyle’s vote, pointing out that he’d sponsored the original bill, and that he himself was a member of United Professions American Federation of Teachers Vermont. Doyle was a founding union member at Johnson State College in 1972.

Doyle’s fellow Republican on the committe, Senate Economic Development chair Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, strongly opposed the bill. “As originally introduced, it would’ve covered the spectrum of early child care workers,” Mullin said. “They kept reducing that. We took out child care centers, then took out employees of non-center based workers.”

“Then just the providers who are small business owners and providers were left. It became discriminatory on who would benefit, by basically only benefitting those sole proprietors. And they’re not all in agreement. There are independent small business people who don’t want to be forced to join a union,” Mullin said.

Mullin also feared the legislation would create a bad precedent by making it possible for other industries which received state subsidies to unionize, or otherwise force collective bargaining on the state, at a time in which government budgets are tight.

“[Child care] subsidy payments are paid on behalf of families, really,” Mullin told VTDigger. “It’s not much different than subsidized rent, paid to help subsidize housing. Does this bill set the stage for landlords, who have subsidized tenants, to unionize, and negotiate directly with the state for subsidies?”

Sen. Don Collins, D-Franklin, joined Mullin and Doyle in rejecting the bill. Sens. Ann Cummings, D-Washington, and Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden, backed the legislation.

After his November election, Gov.Peter Shumlin framed the unionization drive as one of his top legislative priorities. He met with child care workers last month during their lobbying appearances at the Statehouse, promising them that the legislation would pass this year.

In a statement, Shumlin said: “This bill is about improving childcare in Vermont by helping the providers…I’m disappointed the committee chose not to advance the bill.”

Shumlin’s commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, Dave Yacavone, who’s lobbied for the bill early and often, told VTDigger that the issue is still “critically important.” He called the committee’s rejection a “bump on the road” which wouldn’t derail the administration’s efforts.

Yacavone wouldn’t elaborate on how or if the Shumlin administration or other lawmakers might revive the bill.

The bill’s chief sponsor and an ardent backer of child care unions, Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, told VTDigger that it’s “better to have a setback in March than in April… better in the first year of the biennium than in the second year. Many options remain.”

Mullin pointed out that his committee “spent a month” on the bill already, and that it’d been debated on the Senate floor many times in the last session. He indicated he felt the panel’s vote should spell the end of the road for the bill.

“We heard from everybody,” Mullin said. “We had a public hearing. A vote was taken. The process was followed. If people want to subvert the process, they’re free to try to do so, but it would set a bad precedent if we don’t adhere to the processes we set.”

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, a former opponent who pledged to stay neutral this year, won’t allow the bill to come to the Senate floor with committee disapproval, as is standard procedure.

This contrasts with an exception he deliberately made for the controversial death with dignity bill last month, after a promise to his Democratic caucus.

“Clearly the bill had its day there in the committee,” said Campbell. “As I told the advocates for this, I was not going to do anything to block it from having its full committee hearing. If it passes, it passes: If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

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  • tom feerick

    Shumlin, Can you please explain to me how childcare can be improved with a union involved. There is absolutly no way it can. Raising subsidy rates will only benifit the low income families with lower co-payments. The centers will get their same rate.

  • Shelbe Bedi

    As owner of a Licensed 5 Star Center, I thank you for voting no on the union! sigh of relief!

  • Deb Thayer

    This bill does not improve childcare in Vermont nor does it help providers. Senators Mullin and Doyle are right on….This bill as written only separates the childcare community and makes it harder for those that do get subsidy to get quality care.As a small business owner who did not want to join a union I appreciate their votes. Now lets hope that the Senators that supported this bill honor the process of being in a committee, being heard by the public in a very packed public hearing, and being voted no loud and clear by it’s committee members! This SHOULD be the end for this bill, We have been heard , lets see if we can respect the Democratic process!

  • Emily Pryer

    As a child care provider, and one who has supported the bill for the past 3 years, it is important that the record be set straight. From the beginning, this bill only covered providers who were receiving subsidies. That has never changed. In addition, it was the opponents of the bill who advocated for the removal of centers, not us. We always wanted centers in the bill. We finally agreed to take centers off the table in committee when all signs from the committee indicated that centers were going to come out. Once we knew that was the case, there was no point in taking up committee time to debate that issue. If you are going to oppose the bill, oppose it for reasons that are accurate and on-point.

  • Janette Dumont

    I am SO grateful that this bill was voted NO. Supporters can support it, and that is their right. But it is MY right to NOT be forced to join a union, just because I accept state subsidies to help my struggling families. The people that will suffer the most IF this is ever passed, are those families receiving subsidy. So yeah, they MAY get a few dollars more in subsidy assistance but they wont have places to take their children when providers will no longer accept subsidy families to avoid the union. IN my county, MOST providers are against joining any union. This will mean here, parents do NOT have access to quality care for their children. As has been stated NUMEROUS times, I do not WORK for anyone. I CHOOSE to accept subsidy for families, knowing what the State’s reimbursement rate is. My parents pay the difference. YES, I’d love to see the subsidy rates increased, but even when they DO, it doesn’t “benefit” me, it “benefits” the families who will pay a less copay. I still get paid the same amount for my services. I keep hearing “poor working conditions”…don’t we, as providers, make our OWN working conditions? I will forever object to a union for home child care providers, for many reasons, but of up-most importance is ensuring that all children, regardless of their family’s financial status, have access to the same quality care. By forcing providers who accept subsidy to join a union, it forces us to cease accepting subsidy payments to stay out of the Union. Just where will the local families we serve be able to bring their children?

  • Donna Aiken

    I first of all want to say thank you for not allowing this bill to be passed. I truly believe it would hold a negative impact on the child care providers everywhere and our families. I agree with you Janette that this would impact our already struggling parents. I will not join a Union and therefore I will be faced with having to lose my subsidy families and where will they go??? There is no available daycare providers in my area with openings, so therefore these children will go on a waiting list elsewhere. With that being said what will the parents have to do – oh yes they will have to quit their jobs to stay home and you all know where this will all end up as a domino affect. The bottom line here is we providers are opposed to the bill because it does not give us an option that is fair. We can join and pay the Union fee and have subsidy children and lose our voice in our business. If the state funding is low and not able to increase subsidy rates, it does not matter if you have a Union to back you up or not. If there is no money, its simple – there is no money. All the programs are struggling here in Vermont already. The second option is yes we can choose to not join BUT we will have a non member or “agency” fee that could be a high percentage of what the Union fee would be AND we are not allowed to accept subsidy children. Somehow I do not feel that is a fair choice. I also think it discriminates against our subsidy families that are already struggling. I will continue to fight and vote “NO” for Unionization of child care providers in Vermont.

  • Donna Aiken

    I also would like to add that I agree with Mr. Mullin when he said: “It’s not much different than subsidized rent, paid to help subsidize housing. Does this bill set the stage for landlords, who have subsidized tenants, to unionize, and negotiate directly with the state for subsidies?” “We heard from everybody,” Mullin said. “We had a public hearing. A vote was taken. The process was followed. If people want to subvert the process, they’re free to try to do so, but it would set a bad precedent if we don’t adhere to the processes we set.” I agree that this process was followed by the rules and should be done and over and now let it lay to rest.

  • Michelle Scott

    I am very happy the bill was voted as a no! I 100% agree with Senator Mullin “… the panel’s vote should spell the end of the road for the bill.”