Child care provider Jennifer Parrish was preparing a meal one afternoon eight years ago for the six kids she was minding when a man she didn't know strode through the door.
"He walked into my home without knocking and asked me to sign what he said was a petition asking for the state for health insurance for child care providers like myself," the Minnesota native told a Heritage Foundation audience last week.
She already had health insurance so she wasn't interested. But the man would not leave. "He grew more and more upset with me each time I said no. It was a very intimidating experience."
Parrish convinced him she would sign if he would just leave the petition with her. It was only after she read the fine print that she learned it was in fact a membership sign-up card for the Service Employees International Union. The visitor never mentioned the word "union."
It was her first exposure to the long-running effort by Big Labor and Minnesota Democrats to unionize child care providers. Last year, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a law declaring them public sector employees eligible to join one. Parrish is now lead plaintiff in a case brought by the nonprofit group National Right to Work opposing the law.
What's bizarre about the case is that Parrish, and other child care providers like her, isn't anyone's employee. She's the boss. She runs her service and, while she is licensed by the state, she is paid by her customers. Nevertheless, the state claims that because some of the families who use child care services receive public assistance to do so, those providers are state-subsidized and therefore public employees.
NRTW's legal brief to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals notes: "It is akin to the State forcing all food vendors in Minnesota who serve customers enrolled in the State's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ('SNAP') to accept the National Grocers Association as their interest group to lobby for greater SNAP benefits."
What’s really going on is money. Minnesota paid out $194 million through its Child Care Assistance Program in 2012. Organizing the child care providers would give Big Labor a cut of that money.
How? As public employees, the state could enter into "exclusive representation" labor contracts on the providers' behalf. The union could then negotiate for "fair share" representation fees — even from providers who refused to become members. The fees would be deducted from the child care assistance that families using day care services received from the state.
Tellingly, the unionization law Dayton signed last year explicitly says the providers are not state employees "for any other purpose." So, no pensions or liability protection. The law even encompasses providers who are not licensed by the state.
That's typical, by the way. In states from Ohio to Oregon, Democratic governors have declared care providers for children, the elderly and the infirm who benefit from subsidies public employees strictly for the purposes of unionization.
The Minnesota law also says the providers have no right to strike, which shows the absurdity of it. For most, going on strike would mean closing their businesses.
The Minnesota child care providers do not currently have a union. Any elections have been put on hold pending the court action.
Parrish's case has Big Labor worried, and not just in Minnesota. NRTW's legal brief directly challenges the ability of states to enter into exclusive bargaining contracts. It argues this violates the First Amendment because it can result in some providers being compelled to support union activity they don't endorse.
That threatens the 1977 Supreme Court precedent in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. The California Teachers Association highlighted Parrish's case, along with four other cases, in an internal July study, subsequently leaked, which concluded that it was a matter of "not if, but when" Abood is scrapped.
Since half of Big Labor's 14 million members are now in government-sector unions, that could be a severe financial blow. The exodus of members seen in Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker's reforms, which ended forced dues, could be replicated nationally.