After controversial executive order, child care workers vote to unionize

Child care workers paid through a state program voted by a wide margin to form a union, electing CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 to represent them in non-binding discussions with the state Department of Social Services.

Family child care workers who provide services as part of the state’s Care 4 Kids program voted 1603 to 88 to be represented by the union, spokesman Matt O’Connor said Tuesday. The ballots were sent by mail to 6,200 eligible child care providers, although O’Connor said many of the addresses were incorrect, causing the ballots to be sent back. The American Arbitration Association counted the ballots.

Care 4 Kids serves low- and moderate-income families and is involved in funding more than 4,000 child care workers. O’Connor said the vote makes Connecticut the 16th state in which home-based child care workers are unionized.

The unionization effort began in 2005 and was helped along by a controversial executive order issued in September by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The order outlined the process for family child care workers to elect a union to represent them in non-binding discussions that could include compensation, training, the quality and availability of family child care, and improving recruitment and retention of child care providers.

The order also established working group to make recommendations on the best way to structure collective bargaining “rights and relationships” for the union representing the family child care providers.

Malloy issued a similar order affecting personal care attendants who work for seniors and people with disabilities and who are paid through state programs. Both orders have drawn opposition from critics who say Malloy overstepped his authority, although much of the criticism has been centered on the order for personal care attendants. Malloy has said the orders begin the process for establishing bargaining rights, but don’t determine anything.

Both working groups established by Malloy’s executive orders are scheduled to meet Wednesday. Critics of the orders have been watching the groups closely. Personal care attendants and people who hire them are expected to testify at the meeting about the need for collective bargaining rights, according to SEIU, which is seeking to represent them.

Iris Heidar, a family child care provider in Hartford, said she and other providers believe having a union will improve the level of care children receive. The providers sometimes have to spend time on the phone to address issues with Care 4 Kids, taking time away from the children, she said, and having a union to handle some of the administrative concerns could help.

Heidar said she and other providers are also interested in raising the number of children who one provider can care for; it’s currently six, but higher in other states, she said. Other top priorities for the child care workers are raising the rates they are paid and having access to health and dental insurance, she said.

Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, who has been critical of Malloy’s executive orders, said in a statement that SEIU was engaged in a nationwide effort to create more dues-paying members.

“Through this power grab, state employee unions have reached right into the homes of Connecticut residents,” he said, adding that Malloy’s orders “ignored the will and the authority of the legislature.”

“Now the vote of a small number of day care providers, who run a business out of the home and care for the children of a family that receives Care 4 Kids, will force the rest to pay dues to a union, and accept the deal negotiated on their behalf,” Markley said. “If there is a movement for unionization, I believe it should come from the people in the industry, not be imposed by the governor in league with SEIU.”