Star Tribune Commentary: Union Would Benefit Providers and Children

Other Views: Union Would Benefit Child-Care Workers — and Children

GWEN FRENCH and MELISSA SMITH
Star Tribune | October 20, 2011

If you wonder what problem we’re trying to solve, start with a scenario from last summer’s shutdown.

To us as family child-care providers, the care and education of Minnesota’s children isn’t just a business opportunity. It is a vocation. We provide a supportive and loving environment for the children we serve, allowing parents to go to work without worry.

Today we face incredible challenges. As the families we work with struggle, so do we.

When state government shut down last summer, many of us were forced to decide whether to stay open without receiving Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) payments or temporarily close our doors. A lot of us stayed open so that parents could keep working.

We needed to make a case to the state of Minnesota that CCAP funding was vital and necessary for all who received it. We needed a strong voice at the State Capitol. We joined together to ensure that the needs of children and their working parents were heard.

More recently, we read the Oct. 3 commentary “Too many questions on day care union.” The authors, state Sens. David Hann and Mike Parry seemed puzzled by the question “what is the problem we’re trying to solve?”

Well, to be honest, Senators, one of the most important problems we face is the fact that many at the Capitol aren’t aware that there is a problem.

In forming a union, we seek to have a stronger voice as we advocate for one another and for the families we serve. We would have the opportunity to share our concerns more effectively as an industry.

We could ensure that the state, as a partner with us, is fully aware of the challenges we face as we continue to improve and standardize how we care for Minnesota’s kids.

Strengthening and stabilizing our industry through increased training and quality standards will certainly move us in the right direction.

We’re not politicians. While some are trying to make this about politics, we’re invested in the children that we serve, not in partisan talking points.

This is about the kids — about ensuring that we are able to provide the highest quality of care and early learning opportunities possible.

Family child-care providers throughout Minnesota should have a choice when it comes to forming a union. An executive order from the governor calling for a vote would allow everyone that choice without forcing them to do anything.

Once the decision is made — by providers, through a vote– then we can decide how to proceed together. Claims to the contrary are simply partisan attacks.

It is time to rise above partisanship and have an honest conversation about the care of Minnesota’s children.

We’re not just business owners. Yes, there is no doubt that we have responsibilities and take pride in having ownership in what we do.

We are invested in every child who walks through our doors, and we ensure they walk into an environment that is safe, nurturing and respectful.

Yes, we manage a lot — from purchasing food and supplies, to making nutritious meals and snacks, to coordinating activities.

But we have a different bottom line: being able to continue to provide quality early learning and care that’s good for children and good for their parents.

Forming a union will allow us to improve those operations and improve the care of Minnesota’s children. We believe that our children deserve the very best.

By joining together with a network of other providers throughout the state, partnering with the state, we can make sure we continue to move in that direction.

We are strong alone, but even stronger together.

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Gwen French, of Maplewood, and Melissa Smith, of Prior Lake, are child-care providers.

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