Unionizing daycare? California’s child care workers seek a seat at the big kids’ table

Collective action is the most effective tool to get policymakers to pay attention to a low-paid workforce, made up mostly of women of color.

Unionizing daycare? California’s child care workers seek a seat at the big kids’ table

By Ben Christopher (CALmatters)

bill introduced by Assemblywoman Monique Limón, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, would allow self-employed child care workers who serve subsidized families to collectively bargain with the state. Included in this new class of organized laborers would be trained workers like Harvey, but also unlicensed friends, family and neighbors who parents turn to when they are out of other options. Together, these at-home providers are responsible for more than one-third of the young children who attend subsidized daycare—and a larger share of toddlers and infants.

Child care is prohibitively expensive for even middle-class families in much of California. At the same time, the majority of the workers who care for the state’s youngest children are paid so little they qualify for public assistance themselves, according to one estimate. Now, with the state coffers flush, many providers are pushing for this bill—along with a whole slew of child care related legislation aimed at making things easier for families and providers alike.

But whether the state can improve conditions for workers without taking away resources meant for poor families—and whether a union is the best way to achieve that goal—is a hot question. It’s sparked pushback from foes of organized labor, who label the idea a union power grab, and could even earn the skepticism of some child care advocates.

Mary Gutierrez, a campaign director with the Service Employees International Union sponsoring the bill, insists that collective action is the “most effective tool” to get policymakers to pay attention to a low-paid workforce, made up mostly of women of color.

“It’s a commitment by the state to actually sit down with you and listen to what you have to say about the decisions that are being made,” she said.

Those decisions include the rates that the state pays to reimburse subsidized child care workers, access to training and—maybe one day—benefits. Any spending increases would still need to be approved by the Legislature, but at least the state government would be forced to listen to the union’s concerns, said Gutierrez.

Letting family care home providers negotiate directly with the state is an idea that has been introduced at least nine times in Sacramento—only to be vetoed or buried in committee.

With new governor Gavin Newsom, who made early childhood education a thrust of his campaign, advocates are hoping the tenth time is the charm.

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