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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Dave Bellini
2 years 9 months ago

On the other hand, correct me if I am wrong,,, it still requires that at least 51% of childcare workers vote “yes” to join a union and have dues deducted from their wages.
We have seen many letters posted on Digger opposing a union however, I get the sense that there are a large number of these childcare workers who think it’s in their interest to form a union. Otherwise a union vote would fail and this legislation would be a moot point.

Glenn Thompson
2 years 9 months ago

There isn’t a bill floating around in Montpelier that I vehemently oppose more than this one! IMHO, nothing more than a ‘power grab’ and will increase the cost of daycare for all Vermonters! Kill (S.316) and keep it dead!

walter carpenter
2 years 9 months ago

re than a ‘power grab’ and will increase the cost of daycare for all Vermonters! Kill (S.316) and keep it dead!”

I see, so make sure that they are all underpaid and impoverished so as not to increase the costs of daycare? Sounds familiar.

Paul Richards
2 years 9 months ago
“underpaid and impoverished”, aka the liberal mating call. That phrase is warn out. How about the underpaid and impoverished taxpayers who are that way because they have had to spend a lifetime paying for these so called underpaid and impoverished souls who get everything handed to them on a silver platter? They retire early with pensions and health insurance benefits that are miles above what the rest of us who are forced to support it get. So don’t give me the “underpaid and impoverished” line. It’s warn out and so are we from supporting this legal thievery that is public… Read more »
Glenn Thompson
2 years 9 months ago

Underpaid and impoverished???? Seriously Walter….you don’t think people who require daycare could also have a difficult time paying for increased childcare services?

Any idea, any idea at all who gets to pay the ultimate price for the costs associated with union dues and other costs associated by going down this path?

Then the next question becomes…what happens to those daycare providers who refuses to join the union? Several states have repealed their Unionized Childcare provider laws. Perhaps you need to look into….why???

Paul Richards
2 years 9 months ago
Thank you Mr. Roper for pointing out some of the dirty little secrets of public sector unions. This predatory behavior is, unfortunately sanctioned by our laws and the lawmakers that benefit greatly from them. The unions have the complete backing of the liberal politicians who are rewarded by their huge donations. This is a prime example of the crony politics that dominates our whole political system. There is a case before the Supreme Court right now trying to stop this exact action. A woman who cares for her disabled Son at home is being forced to pay into the union… Read more »
Robert Oeser
2 years 9 months ago

Mr. Roper’s logic reminds me that we need to update a pre(?) revolutionary war ditty:

The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the common from the goose.

Today, we would say:

Let’s get down on men and women
who try to better their lot by organizing
and let the billionaires go right on spending
to steal from their tables.

Paul Richards
2 years 9 months ago
In this case the “men and women who try to better their lot by organizing…” are not the same ones as they used to be. Today those people are the union brass stealing money from the rank and file and organizing through any means necessary to fatten their wallets and poison the political process by giving money to the crooked politicians who support them. One dirty hand rubs onto another dirty hand and we all pay. The billionaires spending in this case are not the employers but the politicians stealing our tax dollars to fund their ever exploding failed programs… Read more »
chuck gregory
2 years 9 months ago
Let me see if I understand this correctly: Mr. Roper, who left the employ of the state Republican party to head Karl Rove’s astroturf FreedomWorks PAC and has since returned to Vermont to replace John McLaughry as president of the notoriously retrograde Ethan Allen Institute, will not grant to childcare workers the same rights that corporations have, to wit: Taking money from the unwilling and uninformed (the shareholders) and using it for purposes without their consent (e.g., donating to PACs, parties and candidates)? And, to go a union one better, corporations (if I am not mistaken) are protected by a… Read more »
2 years 9 months ago
Mr. Gregory. Yours is about the most misinformed comment I have ever read on this site! As for your first assertion, I did serve as the elected chair of the Vermont Republican State Committee for a litte less than three years (2007-9), but did not leave to “head Karl Rove’s… freedom works PAC.” First of all, Karl Rove does not head Freedomworks, Matt Kibbe does. Rove started American Crossroads. The two organizationsvare somewhat at odds with one another. I have never “left” Vermont since moving here in 1998. You misspelled McClaughry. Shareholders voluntarily purchase stock in corporations. If you don’t… Read more »
Jason Farrell
2 years 9 months ago

“But even so, your interpretation would illustrate that 70% of our budget is supplied by small local grassroots donors.”

Are you able to provide a link that demonstrates that such a claim is true?

Thank you.

David Dempsey
2 years 9 months ago

Usually a union negotiates with the management of the employer for the benefit of the employees. This bill would would force daycare providers who receive government subsidies to pay union dues, even if they don’t want to join the union. The employees of the daycare provider, who are also the owners, will be represented by a union to negotiate with the management of a daycare provider, the owner. Only in progressive Vermont would the legislature pass a law that allows management of a business to join a union to allow them to negotiate with themselves.

David Dempsey
2 years 9 months ago

What’s next in Vermont if we allow management, the owners of the daycare businesses, to form a union? Maybe all the businesses and government employers in the state could form a union to negotiate with the employees to make sure they can pay the employees as little as possible.

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