April 10, 2012

Maine House backs end to care providers' union rights

The bill, supported by Gov. Paul LePage, would repeal collective-bargaining abilities for child-care workers who get subsidies.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — The Maine House voted 76-66 Monday to support a bill to eliminate collective-bargaining rights for private child-care providers who receive state subsidies.

The bill, L.D. 1894, passed in the Senate last week. After another round of voting, the bill will go to Gov. Paul LePage, who supports it.

The bill would repeal a law passed by the Democratic majority in the Legislature in 2008 to allow providers who are not state employees, but receive state subsidies, to unionize.

About 200 of the state's 1,300 family child-care providers have joined the Maine State Employees Association for union representation.

During Monday's debate in the House, Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, said child-care providers aren't state workers, so they shouldn't be entitled to unionize in an effort to negotiate with the state.

"This bill is about consistency, and restoring that consistency," she said.

Democrats said the child-care providers need a voice at the State House to ensure that they get paid on time and that they can give input on state regulations.

Unlike other private-sector workers, they cannot easily take time off to lobby the Legislature, said Rep. Rob Hunt, D-Buxton.

"We should do all we can to support them," he said. "Happy providers lead to happy children, which leads to happy families."

The Senate voted 19-16 in favor of the bill. Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, was the only Republican to vote with Democrats against the bill. Independent Sen. Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth voted for the bill.

The House vote was largely along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and most Democrats voting against.

Another bill was approved recently to remove collective bargaining rights for workers at the former DeCoster egg farm in Turner.

Supporters of L.D. 1894 said it is unusual for a certain segment of private businesses to have collective bargaining rights with the state while others do not. Maine is one of eight states that allow family child-care providers to collectively bargain, according to the Maine State Employees Association.

Opponents of the bill, including Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, said the bill passed in 2008 was intended to help child-care providers. The bill to repeal that right won't create jobs or stimulate the economy, she said.

"With them not having to come down here (to Augusta), they are able to focus on delivering high-quality child care," she said.

LePage's spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said Monday that the governor feels the providers are independent businesses "and they ought to be treated as such."

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@mainetoday.com


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