AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage’s chief legal counsel told lawmakers Monday that it’s not fair that some child care providers have the right to unionize while other workers who receive state subsidies do not.

That’s why LePage hopes that lawmakers will pass L.D. 1894, which would repeal a 2008 law that gave nearly 300 child care providers the right to unionize, even though they are not state workers.

“This really is not about collective bargaining,” said Dan Billings, the attorney for LePage. “It’s about independent businesses trying to use that process to their benefit.”

The Maine State Employees Association, which represents the workers, said the providers need union representation at the State House so they can influence decisions on regulations that affect their industry.

Unlike hospitals, which have paid lobbyists, these are typically home-based businesses whose owners are the primary workers. Those workers could not leave their children on a regular basis to lobby the Legislature, union representatives said.

“These small businesses are advocating for sensible child care policies and regulation, including legislation affecting the child care voucher system, and water and safety regulations,” said Chris Quint, executive director of the MSEA.

LePage proposed eliminating collective bargaining rights for the same group of workers last year, along with a cut in the subsidy rates that help cover the cost of child care for low-income families. Lawmakers rejected both ideas.

The new bill, being considered by the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, does not propose any change in subsidy rates, but would repeal the collective bargaining rights of the workers.

The measure would not save the state any money in the short term, which caused some Democratic lawmakers to ask why it is necessary.

“If it’s not costing the state more for people to be in an association, what’s the harm?” asked Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash.

Nicholas Adolphsen, director of legislative affairs for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the bill addresses a larger policy concern: that other industries that receive state subsidies will want the right to unionize.

“It ensures that those who have collective bargaining are state employees, not private businesses,” he said.

Last week, Republicans in the Legislature passed legislation to revoke the right to unionize from workers at the former DeCoster egg farm. Quint said the child care legislation, which is scheduled for a committee vote Friday, is another attempt by the LePage administration to hurt unions in Maine.

One business group expressed support for the bill. The National Federation of Independent Businesses submitted written testimony, saying it opposed the initial legislation in 2008 and would support its repeal.

“Pretending that private child care providers are somehow public employees, because they receive a subsidy from the state, sets a bad precedent that could also be used to justify the unionization of home health providers or other private business owners,” wrote the federation’s state director, David Clough.

While no child care providers testified at Monday’s hearing, one submitted written testimony that was read by a union official.

“Maine child care providers are committed to government efficiency, a thriving business environment, job creation, and lowering the numbers of unemployed and those receiving assistance, which is why we strongly support continuing the right of home child care businesses to have a voice in what they do,” wrote Melanie Collins, president of the KidsFirst union chapter of the MSEA.

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]