Child-care providers and in-home health care workers celebrated a hard-fought victory for their professions yesterday, after the Minnesota House joined the Senate in passing a bill that would allow them to vote on whether to form a union.
The celebration spilled from the House gallery into the Capitol hallways, as pro-union child-care and home-care workers hugged each other, sang together and cheered the DFL authors of the legislation, Rep. Michael Nelson of Minneapolis and Sen. Sandy Pappas of St. Paul.
“This is incredible,” said Sumer Spika, a home care worker from St. Paul. “Home care workers deserve the same right as other workers to form a union, and now, because of this bill, we will soon have that right to choose for ourselves if we want a union.”
Gov. Mark Dayton has pledged to sign the legislation, which passed the House 68-66 and the Senate 35-32 last week.
During prolonged debate on the House floor, supporters said the bill was a step toward recognizing the value of workers who provide state-subsidized child care and self-directed home health care. Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, reminded opponents of the bill that workers in established professions like teaching and nursing fought similar battles in years past.
“When teachers tried to form a union, they heard the same arguments against it: ‘You can’t do that, you can’t form a union,’” Melin said. “But they did.”
Lynn Barten, a child-care provider who traveled from Alexandria to watch lawmakers debate the bill last weekend, said some of the arguments revealed just how far she and her colleagues have come – and how far have yet to go.
“This week we were called glorified housewives,” Barten said. “There’s nothing that makes me more angry than not being recognized as the professional I am. For me, this fight is about getting the respect child-care providers deserve.”
Republican lawmakers vigorously opposed granting home health workers and child-care providers the right to vote on forming a union – and offered amendment after amendment in an attempt to delay voting on the bill. Debate on the Senate floor lasted a record 17 hours, and the House tabled the measure twice over the course of three days before voting on the session’s last day.
Republican efforts to amend the bill ran the gamut from absurd – a lengthy debate over the size of the font printed on union sign-up cards – to offensive. An amendment offered by Rep. Kurt Zellers would have required union organizers and volunteers to pass background checks before making house calls.
When their stall tactics failed, Republicans claimed the bill amounted to “forced unionization” of home care workers and child-care providers – an argument DFL Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul dismissed.
“This is about giving the people who care for our loved ones the opportunity to vote,” Murphy said. “They may choose to organize. They may choose not to organize. As Minnesotans we should give them that right.”