After 27 hours of argument on the floor of the Legislature, Minnesotans aren’t done debating whether private business owners can unionize to bargain with the state. The arguments will continue in federal court.
Opponents are suing to stop the new law that would allow personal-care attendants and child care providers who receive state subsidies to seek union representation.
The court challenge is one worth pursuing. The measure isn’t a good idea for the workers or for the young and vulnerable Minnesotans they care for, or their families.
The attorney for child care providers opposing the union said he will seek a preliminary injunction to stop a union election and then a permanent injunction and a ruling that the statute is invalid.
Placing these small-business people in a union is “simply not allowed under federal labor law,” attorney Douglas Seaton argues. “No state can regulate with respect to labor relations in the private sector.”
And federal law pre-empts state law in the field, he said. “Legislators had a duty to observe these constitutional requirements.” They failed to do so.
Further, he said, the way the statute differentiates who can and cannot vote is a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. and Minnesota constitutions.
The matter also was in court last year when a judge in Ramsey County ruled that Gov. Mark Dayton exceeded his authority in trying to order a unionization vote and said the issue should be handled through the legislative process.
Seaton said that “labeling these individuals as public, state employees is just a fiction. The fact that these are private-sector business people is going to trump” other arguments.
Indeed. This is a free market best left to function on its own, without unions in the way.
Perceptions about political payback are among the issues. It’s clear that the organizations with the most to gain are the unions: Day care operators would be represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. Personal-care attendants, who care for the sick, elderly and disabled, could join the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU.
Observers attributed action this session on the measure to the power shift at the Legislature that put Democrats in control. According to an Associated Press analysis of campaign reports, unions pumped more than $3.7 million into Democratic races and the state party last year and steered millions more toward independent campaign groups.
Proponents argue that state subsidies to lower-income families under the state’s Child Care Assistance Program haven’t kept up with market rates, and that union representation would provide leverage for additional funding.
There are those concerned about creating what amounts to additional public-worker unions, about pressure on state budgets — and the ultimate cost to taxpayers — as increases in state reimbursement rates are negotiated.
The lawsuit won’t address the ultimate needs for good care for Minnesotans and a good deal for taxpayers. But it’s a good next step.
ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS