Rob Roper: Robbing the poor to give to the powerful

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Robert Roper, the president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.

As the Legislature wrapped up business before heading home for the Town Meeting Day break, the Vermont Senate voted 22-8 in favor of An Act Related to Childcare Providers. What this bill would do is effectively pick the pockets of Vermont’s smallest businesses, mostly run by women who don’t make a lot of money. The windfall from this action will benefit some of the most powerful special interest organizations in Montpelier, and represents a very ugly side of crony politics.

The bill (S.316) allows early child care providers to form a union in order to collectively bargain for increased government subsidies. What’s wrong with that, you might ask? We all have a right to freedom of association and if people want to form a union they have every right to do so. Yes. Absolutely. However, this bill has to be taken in the context of another bill passed into law during the 2013 legislative session, Act 37.

Act 37, An Act Relating to Payment of Agency Fees And Collective Bargaining Fees, forces people who choose not to join a union — and want nothing to do with a union — to pay fees equal to 85 percent of full union membership dues to the union that is ostensibly bargaining on their behalf. In other words, it allows unions to use the power of government to confiscate money from people who are not its members.

For example, in the aftermath of passage of Act 37, the Vermont NEA (National Education Association) was able to collect several hundred thousand dollars in “fees” from roughly 2,600 mostly low-wage support staff who can least afford to hand over a chunk of their paychecks. If the child care unionization bill passes, the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO, who are supporting the bill, can expect a similar windfall. This is why Vermonters for the Independence of Child Care Professionals, a coalition of over 250 registered home providers across the state, is frantically opposed to the bill.

So, why would a Legislature with a supermajority of small-p progressives, always out for “the people over the powerful,” be overwhelmingly signing off on this heavy-handed, reverse Robin Hood legislation? The answer is crony politics in which the powerful look out for each other at the expense of anyone else.

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, pointed out that the Legislature has the power to increase reimbursement rates to child care providers without the necessity of a union lobbying them to do so.

 

On the heels of collecting its newfound revenue, the NEA put over $100,000 support for the majority party’s single payer health care initiative. They spent $35,000 on a poll that revealed popular support for single payer has dropped by half to just 24 percent in the past 12 months, and then poured $80,000 into Vermont Leads, a single payer advocacy organization.

After the Senate approved the child care unionization bill, the American Federation of Teachers announced that it will be donating another $100,000 to start Vermont’s Coalition for Universal Reform, a 501(c)(4) that “plans to unleash a lobbying, organizing and advertising campaign in support of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s plan to provide universal health insurance in 2017.” (Seven Days, March 20, 2014)

And who will lead this new organization? The House majority whip, Tess Taylor, D-Barre, who resigned her office to take the lobbying job.

The history of this bill is just as unseemly. In 2012, when an earlier version of the child care unionization bill failed in the Senate, Ben Johnson, president of the AFL-CIO, reportedly threatened the Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, “by sliding a piece of paper across his desk that showed how much money the union had spent on political action committees that supported Campbell and [the Democratic] party and asking him to support the bill.” (VTDigger, Feb. 7, 2012)

Campbell was at the time justifiably outraged, saying, “The reason why I believe this bill does not have the right to go forward is the tactics used to intimidate myself and this body are so against what good clean government is about, I think it would be rewarding bad behavior.” It still does.

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, opposed the child care unionization bill this year on the floor of the Senate. He pointed out that the Legislature has the power to increase reimbursement rates to child care providers without the necessity of a union lobbying them to do so. If the Legislature sees a problem, why not just address it directly?

Perhaps because doing so would not put money into the pockets of powerful special interests that would in turn use that money to prop up the majority party’s failing signature policy initiative? If hundreds of low-income child care providers have to “pay their fair share” in order to make this happen, so be it.

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