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Policy: Labor

Why teachers unions back the child care block grant reauthorization

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Congress,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Senate,Labor,Teachers Unions

On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill to reauthorize the Child Care and Redevelopment Block Grant. The legislation would, as the title indicates, give states funds to pay for child care programs. Big Labor was a major backer of the bill, which -- not coincidentally -- would make it easier for them to organize recipients of the subsidies.

In a statement emailed to reporters today, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten praised the Senate for passing the legislation: "Having access to affordable child care is critical for working families, and ensuring high-quality early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make to prepare a child for success in school and life. This bill expands that promise for low-income families who need it the most, focuses on the health and safety of children, provides online tools for families seeking child care, raises the quality of care and strengthens the child care workforce. The House should follow the Senate's lead and pass this bill immediately."

Note that she said "strengthens the child care workforce." Among its other provisions, the $13 billion budget bill "would require states to certify that they require child care providers to meet certain standards regarding health and safety practices and training," according a Congressional Budget Office analysis.

Navigating a state's training and licensing requirements can be a tricky issue, but there are organizations that will help child care providers. The leading group is the Center for the Child Care Workforce. The center also happens to be an arm of the AFT. In 2002, the formerly independent organization merged with the union's nonprofit arm, the American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation.

This is part of a broader effort by Big Labor to organize child care workers. This involves using the subsidies as a means to ensure that the government is the workers' common employer, making them eligible to unionize. In 2005, for example, then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued an executive order stating that child care workers receiving state funding now had collective bargaining rights. The order explicitly stated that "there is a need to stabilize the day care home workforce which includes licensed and license exempt home providers." Having a union with exclusive representation rights over those workers would be one way to ensure that all are licensed. The union that got the contract for the 49,000 workers in the program was the Service Employees International Union, which had donated more than $800,000 to Blagojevich's gubernatorial campaign.

The lead sponsor of S. 1086, the block grant reauthorization bill, is Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., a major recipient of union campaign funds, including from the AFT. She proudly notes AFT's support for her bill in her press releases. It also has the support of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, another union trying to organize child care workers.

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