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House approves disputed unionization bill with no votes to spare

Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the legislation, which would allow many child-care workers and personal-care attendants to decide if they want union representation.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, the lead Senate author of the child-care unionization bill, reacts to House passage of the bill.
MinnPost photo by James Nord

An extremely controversial measure that would allow unions to attempt to organize child-care workers and personal-care attendants passed the state House on Monday after nearly 12 hours of debate, wrapping up the most controversial issue of the waning legislative session.

The tight House vote — 68 to 66 —showed just how difficult it was for Democrats to successfully carry the union-backed legislation. Five DFL representatives did not support the bill: Tim Faust, Tina Liebling, Jay McNamar, Kim Norton and Gene Pelowski.

The Senate passed the same provisions last week despite Republicans staging a marathon 17-hour filibuster.

The stop-and-start House debate began early Sunday morning in the midst of a last-minute rush to pass the Democrats’ $38 billion budget. DFL leadership, in an effort to combat Republican efforts to filibuster the bill, took it up in spurts when omnibus budget bills weren’t available for consideration.

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The Monday afternoon vote came after a more-than-10-hour deliberation that gave sides an opportunity to hammer away at the other.

Union supporters from AFSCME and SEIU erupted into cheers and applause from the gallery after the vote, throwing the House chamber into disarray.

House Speaker Paul Thissen attempted to quiet the enthusiastic supporters as angry Republicans took cell phone video of them celebrating.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, a Republican from Farmington, angrily grabbed his desk microphone and snarled at Thissen: “Let them applaud. They own the place!”

But shortly before that, such anti-unionization stalwarts as Republican Reps. Mary Franson, Jerry Hertaus and Steve Drazkowski urged opposition demonstrators to yell loudly against the bill as they one by one walked into the House chamber.

Garofalo’s passionate objection showcases the deeply partisan divide over the bill.

Republicans characterized the measure as DFL payback to their union supporters for helping them win control of the Legislature in the 2012 elections. They also criticized the bill as something child-care providers and others affected don’t want.

“What we saw happen today was a huge step backwards for low-income families who rely on child-care assistance from the government to help pay for their child-care needs,” GOP Rep. Tara Mack said shortly after the vote, criticizing Democrats for not accepting any Republican amendments.

tara mack
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Rep. Tara Mack objected that the bill seemed to favor the interests of unions over those of small-business owners.

“We’re not anti union,” she added. “Our problem with this bill is that it really stacked the cards in union favor. It’s not a fairly written bill in the interest of small-business owners, so what we’re going to see as a result of this is child-care providers are going to have the option of join the union or stop taking children who have subsidized care.”

But Democrats pushed back against Republicans’ claims, calling them alarmists who didn’t understand the true intent of the legislation, which allows providers and PCAs to decides if they want a unionize.

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“I think the rest of the state’s going to go on with their business. The sky’s not going to fall because a few thousand workers get to actually decide about their future and their destiny,” Sen. Sandy Pappas, the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, told reporters after the House vote.

Afterward, Pappas and Rep. Michael Nelson, who also sponsored the bill, celebrated with screaming supporters outside of the House. The two lawmakers hugged representatives from AFSCME and SEIU, who had camped out at the Capitol for days as the lower-chamber lawmakers debated the measure in fits and starts.

pappas nelson
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Sen. Pappas and Rep. Michael Nelson, the House sponsor, embrace after the House vote.

“We just got out of their way,” a smiling Pappas said. “That’s what we did. The state should not have been in their way, and that was the whole point of our legislation.”

Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the measure, but supporters noted that the real challenge for advocates — preparing for and winning the union election — is still looming.

“The work just begins now,” Nelson said.