Opponents of day-care unionization efforts triumphant after Supreme Court decision

MinnPost photo by Briana Biersch
Jennifer Parrish, lead plaintiff in the case against the state, speaking during Monday's news conference with Republican legislators and political candidates.

Opponents of an effort to unionize Minnesota’s home-based day-care and health workers are elated with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that thousands of home health-care workers cannot be required to pay fees that help cover their union’s costs of collective bargaining.

The court’s 5-4 ruling in the Illinois case of Harris v. Quinn Monday is the latest development in the drawn-out effort from two unions in Minnesota — AFSCME Council 5 and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota — to organize thousands of day-care providers and personal care attendants who receive state subsidies.

The DFL-controlled Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton paved the way for providers to unionize with a 2013 law change, but the move was immediately challenged in court by opponents. In September, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals put a hold on the union election in Minnesota until there was a resolution in the Illinois case before the Supreme Court. A final ruling from the Circuit Court could now come in a matter of weeks.

Most political and legal experts agree that opponents of the law have reason to celebrate. The high court ruling hurts union efforts to set contracts and remain financially viable, but it may not go as far as opponents in Minnesota would like. Union leaders had feared the court would strike down laws in more than two dozen states that require public employees to pay union fees even if they don’t agree with the union’s political advocacy work. That didn’t happen.  

“This is particularly focused on home care workers, and the justices didn’t take the opportunity to expand it broader,” said John Budd, a professor of work and organization at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “It’s really only around one issue, which is the ability to impose fair share agreements. It doesn’t really effect their ability to unionize or not.”

Opponents ‘cautiously optimistic’

At a news conference Monday where she was flanked by Republican legislators and political candidates, a teary-eyed Jennifer Parrish — a Rochester home care provider who is the lead plaintiff in the case against the state — called the Minnesota and Illinois cases nearly identical and proclaimed the issue of collecting fees all but dead after the ruling. She also asked Dayton to drop legal challenges and personally pay plaintiffs’ legal costs.

The Supreme Court found that home health care workers in Illinois couldn’t be forced to pay fees because they aren’t full-fledged employees of the state. Rather, they are hired by individual patients and work in private homes, even if they are paid in part by state Medicaid funding.

Parrish was also “cautiously optimistic” that the ruling was “merely a first step” in her challenge, which goes beyond the arguments in Illinois. Parrish is questioning the union’s ability to gain exclusive representation for non-state employees. “The next logical step is that our case will knock that out as well,” she said.

But University of Minnesota labor economics professor Aaron Sojourner said it’s unlikely the courts will broaden the Minnesota case.

“It’s giving individual people working under this framework the ability to say I’d rather opt out,” he said. “The big drama of the case was whether it was going extend beyond these decentralized workers who don’t have the state as the employer of record but do have the state paying for their services. That didn’t happen.”

Unions said the ruling wouldn’t curtail their organizing efforts. They said their representation would mean bargaining for quality reimbursement rates and working conditions for day-care and home health workers.

“No court case can stand in the way of millions of women who help us raise our children and care for our aging parents,” said Eliot Seide, director of AFSCME Council 5. “Child-care providers and home care workers will continue to have a strong voice for good jobs and quality care for their consumers. This decision doesn’t stop them from organizing and collectively bargaining with states.”

Potent election issue?

All four Republicans running for governor are using the ruling as an opportunity to attack Dayton.  

Some operatives think the attention on the case could hurt the governor’s support with independent female voters in swing districts, and Republicans were quick to cast the governor as going after small businesses owned by mostly women to pay back unions for their political support.

Orono businessman and governor candidate Scott Honour said he would continue to push the theme that Dayton puts unions before average Minnesotans. GOP-endorsed governor candidate Jeff Johnson said it was “beyond the pale” for Dayton to use the “livelihoods of hundreds of small businesswomen throughout the state as collateral to pay back his union campaign contributors.”

MN Jobs Coalition, a third-party group training its fire on Dayton this campaign season, noted that the deal passed by a one-vote margin and signed into law “despite bi-partisan opposition.” 

But Dayton defended the law, which he has pushed for since 2011, when he issued an executive order to allow the unions to hold an election. A state court tossed that order.

“For decades the right to organize has been an accepted mainstream principle in American society,” Dayton said in a statement Monday. “If people can’t vote for themselves to decide if they want to join a union or not, that’s just not democracy.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/01/2014 - 10:15 am.

    What an embarrassment when citizens must appeal to the highest court in the land to get protection from Democratic quid pro quo deals with unions. Shame on you Gov. Dayton; leave these women alone!p

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 07/01/2014 - 10:44 am.

      Last I checked

      No one forced “these women” as you put it, to accept subsidized payments from the government. Should they find unionization so onerous, I’m sure there are many entrepreneurs willing to step in to take those burdensome payments (and the kids that come with them) off their hands. Or, (gasp!) they might decide that they could find it in their budget to charge a rate such that those parents of kids currently subsidized by the government might not need the subsidy.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 07/01/2014 - 11:02 am.

      If you are so worried about women

      Why don’t you pile shame on the US Supreme Court for interfering with their health care

  2. Submitted by mark wallek on 07/01/2014 - 11:06 am.

    Greed knoweth no bounds

    Keeping the payments very low where childcare is concerned is important. We don’t want the people who care for the children of a self important class to prosper. If they did, these self important types could not refer to them as “the help” for their oh so important lifestyles. Everything that interrupts their self important focus needs to be lowballed, just for that reason. Gotta love the quasi Christian performance.

  3. Submitted by Susan McNerney on 07/01/2014 - 12:09 pm.

    I’m always puzzled by people

    who make the great cause in their life reducing the wages and benefits of entire classes of people. In this case, these activists want the people who care for children to be little more than serfs. They want your kids to be raised around people who can’t afford to feed their own children. Why take that up as The Thing You Care About? There a many, many more worthy causes.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/01/2014 - 02:11 pm.

      In truth, these activists are the child care providers themselves and by your leave they feel they have the right to run their businesses as they see fit.

      You may not think it important, but to them it is their careers at issue.


      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 07/01/2014 - 02:27 pm.

        Its quite simple Swift

        When these folks decided to take tax dollars to run their business they made I and every other taxpayer a party to how they choose to run their business. Your tortured taxpayer’s rights ideology cuts both ways. Personally I would rather the state government just withhold subsidy payment from any daycare provider who declines to go union. There is nothing on record to my knowledge that states that subsidy must be payed out to whomever requests it.

        • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/01/2014 - 02:52 pm.

          Thanks for illustrating

          why conservatives abhor big government … because you believe you have a right to run everyone’s affairs because you contribute some nominal sum to the collective. And don’t think we don’t notice that those who demand the most contribute the least.

          These day care providers are doing a job in the private sector so the taxpayers don’t have to hire unskilled people and pay them as if they were, and then pay their benefits and retirement when they decide they’ve had enough at age 55.

          • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 07/01/2014 - 04:12 pm.

            Except when the “conservatives” prosper

            From big govt – like military contractors, farmers with ethanol subsidies, big business with infinite tax breaks and yes for profit education companies. Then the conservatives become happy socialists

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/01/2014 - 03:18 pm.

          Unfortunately for you, Haas, that’s not how it works in America. We are a nation of laws.

          Sorry, but there it is.

  4. Submitted by Kurt Anderson on 07/01/2014 - 02:30 pm.

    Unsuccessful and pathetic

    I grew up in a private sector union family, now an endangered species. My father was a union officer. Today I live in a family day care household and resent the political payoff that would have been a very unwelcome intrusion in our home.
    If these are the kinds of measures to which today’s unions have to resort in order to expand their membership, their situation is truly pathetic.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 07/01/2014 - 04:34 pm.

      Then let’s

      End all family day care tax subsidies as well. Citizens without children should not have to subsidize those who do

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/02/2014 - 12:25 am.

      Good Comment

      My wife has been in the in home daycare, and now preschool business for 20+ years. The idea that we need or want Unions in our business is so silly… As entrepeneurs, we like controlling our own business.

      As for receiving tax breaks, food subsidies, care subsidies, etc… These other commenters don’t understand the simple truth… The Parents and Children are receiving the benefits, and we are just a pass through.

      We get to deduct our expenses just like any other company / business. If we did not receive adequate payment for the child’s care and food, we would raise our prices to make an adequate profit or we would exit the business, and do something that paid better…

      Maybe the low income Parents should unionize and demand more benefits so they can attend a better daycare…

  5. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 07/01/2014 - 04:41 pm.

    They’ll just get the advantages with no cost to them

    The people who oppose this will just freeload off the union members who stay. The union will negotiate a decent fee and everyone will get it and the people who opt out will still get all of the benefits..

    More of the “I don’t have to pay if I don’t want to attitude.” Except that never works for us who oppose huge corporate giveaways. In other words, more of society based on the lowest common denominator.

  6. Submitted by Ross Reishus on 07/01/2014 - 05:36 pm.

    Withholding the subsidy

    The, EMBARASSMENT….is living in a nation where we pride ourselves on how great the American dream is supposed to be, all while quickly squashing it all around us for everyone else, whenever it becomes politically or financially convenient. THAT is what’s embarrassing. Withholding the the subsidy is a grand idea, Mr. Haas, and one I will pass on to my local legislators and I hope you will do the same. And about the freeloaders. They’re the same people who cheated in school, cheat on their taxes, and us religion as a shield of convenience whenever it suits them. They’re also lousy tippers.

    • Submitted by Kurt Anderson on 07/01/2014 - 10:09 pm.


      You need to separate your general social and economic angst (which I share to a large degree) from this particular issue. The “freeloaders” you are referring to are low-doller self employed persons who have to find their own health insurance, bargain with their customers (not employers or the state) about vacation and sick leave, wipe noses, change diapers, mediate about six quarrels per hour, put up with unfavorable news articles, fill in a minimum of three additional tax forms with hours or related bookkeeping and record keeping, understand and implementing new regulations every year, and deal with a county licenser (a real public employee, probably also represented by AFSCME).

      Those who accept subsidies have the additional aggravation of having their revenues cut off without notice when their subsidized customers forget to turn in a form or return a phone call to social services.

      These problems are not within the traditional expertise of a labor union and many providers have no confidence in a union being able to address them. They already have specialized professional associations well-equipped to assist on these issues.

      These providers are not cardboard cutouts or brick walls that you can take a marker and deface with your invective. They are real people who spend hours caring for children and winning the trust of parents. .

      They are also aware that AFSCME carried Gov. Dayton not only through the election but also through the primary, upsetting some highly qualified DFL opposition. They do not want to be the coins of the resulting payoff.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 07/02/2014 - 12:45 pm.

        Then again

        If its such a troubling burden, don’t take subsidized kids. As I recall you don’t have to be licensed either if you decide to abstain from state subsidized food programs as well. Those are all choices made by the provider in the interest of appealing to a broader customer base. I as a taxpayer am under no obligation to make your (or any other businsssperson’s) life easier right. That’s the standard conservative invective. Were the professional organizations adequate to address the issues presented one would think the unionization push would be ineffective, regardless of your opinion of its status as political payback or not, or is it your opinion that all the providers in favor are simply bought and paid for union stooges? It is entirely within the power of any provider wishing to avoid unionization to do so, you simply wish to avoid the consequences of that decision as well.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/02/2014 - 02:32 pm.


          First, you can only take care of children from one family if you do not have a license.

          Second, do you understand that you are trying to force private businesses to band together to demand higher fees? This seems so surreal.

          Lastly, if one were to turn down a poor family, one risks getting sued.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 07/02/2014 - 09:26 pm.

            In order

            1. Decisions, decisions. 2. Or perhaps as a provided one does not feel your interests are being adequately addressed by whatever professional organization claims to have your back. Again, if unionization is so unneeded why are providers asking for it, who are they? Surely you cannot believe they all are just minions of the evil union bosses. My personal guess is that the “professional” organizations have simply morphed into thinly veiled issue advocacy groups, whose issues have increasingly narrowed to only those of the folks when pay for influence. That’s certainly the traditional role of such organizations in wider society. 3. Funny, I don’t seem to recall a massive wave of litigation regarding rental properties not accepting sec 8 subsidies or one over businesses declining ebt sales. Why would refusing to accept child care subsidization be any different? Furthermore what is a principled conservative such as yourself doing accepting welfare? Shouldn’t you be shooing those freeloaders from your door with a harsh admonition to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps”?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/02/2014 - 10:46 pm.


              We live in and have done business in Plymouth… Didn’t have to deal with this challenge.

              Who wants Unions… The usual people who think they deserve more from the government for the work they do, and they are willing organize to try and get it. (ie pro-union folk) I would say that maybe 50% want it and 50% are against it.

              Now what about your supporting price fixing amongst private businesses?

              As for accepting subsidies, we like the school districts recieve food subsidies. I am happy giving them up, however I don’t think the clients would be too happy. Again, the beneficiary of these programs and efforts are the parents. It keeps there childcare costs down and/or keeps more providers available to them.

Leave a Reply