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Child Care Union Bill Splits Maine Lawmakers Along Party Lines
04/06/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Democrats in the Maine House will try to defeat a bill next week that bars independent, in-home child care providers from forming a union or participating in collective bargaining negotiations. Current state law contains an exemption that permits the workers to organize. Republicans claim removing the exemption will make the state policy consistent with other labor laws. But Democrats maintain the bill is an another example of anti-union legislation that Republicans have been advancing since they gained the majority in the Legislature 15 months ago.

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Child Care Union Bill Splits Maine Lawmakers Along Listen

House Democratic Leader Emily Cain says she was ready to take on the union-busting bill today. But majority Republicans opted not to take up LD 1894. Although Gov. Paul LePage and many GOP lawmakers hope to eliminate an exemption the Legislature approved five years ago that permits independent, in-home child care providers to affiliate with the Maine State Employees Association, Cain has other ideas.

"I hope the bill fails," Cain says. The Orono Democrat says Republicans and the LePage administration have been moving an anti-union agenda ever since the new majority decided to merge the Legislature's Labor Committee with business interests.

"This bill is the latest in a string of attacks on working people in Maine, and this bill will not create a single job," Cain says. "And I expect the debate in the House to be tough, I expect it to be long, and at the end of the day, Democrats will stand with working people in Maine and their right to collectively bargain."

"I am not opposed to collective bargaining, I am not opposed to union representation for whom it's appropriate," says Sen. Chris Rector. "But I think we have a very unusual case here. A case that is inexplicable to me, frankly, and was inexplicable when it was passed by the Legislature two terms ago."

On Thursday, Rector, of Thomaston, led the GOP charge on the Senate floor to remove the exemption in current law that allows more than 200 child care workers to affiliate with the state employees union. Rector says the current law affects more than 1,300 licensed child care providers who are not state employees.

"The law that we are trying undo here, to unravel, forces them to be members of that union," Rector says. "As it happens, it actually has the power to force them to pay either union dues or fair share. Now that hasn't been enforced, but that power exists in the law as it exists. To me that is--striking."

Because Gov. Paul LePage had included--and then removed--language that would accomplish the same purpose as LD 1894 in his budget last year, state Sen. Troy Jackson, an Allagash Democrat, said Republicans seemed to simply be trying to resurrect an unpopular issue.

"I don't know what the harm is," Jackson says. "These people get representation to talk to the state about issues that are important to them and to the children that they're taking care of, and I just don't understand what the harm of that is. But it does seem like last session the governor tried to do this in the budget, it was taken out for whatever reasons. And because it was taken out, we received this bill this session to get it a different way."

Sen. Jon Courtney said that, as far he was concerned, the bill would not bar the child care workers from forming a union. "I'm not sure how repealing this law changes the childcare (workers') ability to organize or get together," Courtney said. "It just, as I understand it, prohibits them from being part of the--requiring them to be part of the Maine State Employees union."

LD 1894 received initial approval in a near party-line vote in the Senate and now awaits action in the House.


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