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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Legislature Allows Child Care Union Amid Concerns Over Cost

A bill that allows home-based child care providers to unionize and negotiate subsidies with the state has won final approval in the House and is on its way to Gov. Peter Shumlin for his signature.

Backers of the bill have worked for four years to win approval in the Legislature and the final step in the process was when the House passed the legislation by a vote of 78 to 59.

"This bill is going to give a cohort of people an opportunity to have a voice in the negotiations with the state over subsidy rates." Waterbury Rep. Tom Stevens

Vermont has roughly 1,400 home-based child care providers. This bill would give them the opportunity to form a union and enter into negotiations with the state over the subsidies they receive to provide services to children from low income families. The bill would affect only those providers who take care of 12 or fewer children.

The House has backed this bill in the past but it’s been stalled in the Senate. However, things turned out differently this year when Senate President John Campbell allowed the bill to come to the floor for a vote and it passed 22 to eight.

This week, the debate returned to the House. Waterbury Rep. Tom Stevens said it’s critical to give the home-based providers the ability to negotiate with the state over the subsidies.

This bill is going to give a cohort of people which are, generally speaking, very poor, very isolated day care providers an opportunity to have a voice in the negotiations with the state over subsidy rates, professional training and grievance procedures with the state,” Stevens said.

Stevens notes that there’s a 40 percent turnover rate for workers at the smaller home-based operations. He thinks establishing higher subsidy rates will create continuity for these providers and the children they serve.

“If we can lower turnover and we can provide stability for families and we can get these kids into a stable situation so they can learn better or pre-learn better before they go to school, that seems to be the policy in everything else we’re working for,” Stevens added.

Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright opposed the bill because he says providers who don’t want to join the union will still have to pay a union fee.

“It is going to, I think, hurt small providers who do not want to be forced to join and pay union dues and can’t afford that,” said Wright. “And if the bill passes there is a very good likelihood that that’s what will happen and I think there are unintended consequences as a result of the bill.”

And Wright says it’s been difficult for lawmakers to raise the state subsidy rate in recent years because of other budget pressures.

“We have the ability in the Legislature to raise the subsidy rate if we choose to on our own and we haven’t done it for a number of years,” said Wright. “And what we say is 'okay, we’re not going to raise that rate, but guess what, we’re going to allow you to form a union to lobby us to do what we won’t do without it.'”

The legislation enjoys the strong support of Gov. Shumlin and he says he will enthusiastically sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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