AUGUSTA, Maine — A late bill offered by Gov. Paul LePage would take away the ability of independent, in-home child care providers to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.
During a public hearing Monday on LD 1894, the governor’s chief legal counsel, Dan Billings, said the bill’s goal is fairness. No other self-employed workers that receive state subsidies have the right to unionize, he said.
“This is the only group of service providers that allows them to come together to bargain for subsidy rates,” Billings told members of the Legislature’s labor committee.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses submitted written testimony in support of repealing the law.
“Pretending that private child care providers are somehow public employees because they receive a subsidy from the state sets a bad precedent that could also be used to justify the unionization of home health providers or other private business owners,” State Director David Clough wrote.
Chris Quint, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, the union representing the independent providers, said LD 1894 is just another attempt by the LePage administration to weaken union rights.
“These small businesses are advocating for sensible child care policies and regulation, including legislation affecting the child care voucher system, and water and safety regulations,” said Quint.
No child care providers testified Monday but one, Melanie Collins, submitted written testimony.
“Maine child care providers are committed to government efficiency, a thriving business environment, job creation, and lowering the numbers of unemployed and those receiving assistance, which is why we strongly support continuing the right of home child care businesses to have a voice in what they do,” she wrote.
Other industries that receive state subsidies — hospitals, for instance — have paid lobbyists.
This same measure was included in LePage’s initial biennial budget that was proposed last year but was stripped early in the process amid opposition. The governor wanted to lower the subsidy rate last year as well but that didn’t fly.
The current law was put into place in 2008 to allow nearly 300 providers to unionize with the MSEA. Those providers all receive subsidies from DHHS to help low-income families pay for child care.
Billings said the bill was not about the subsidy rate, which is set by the Legislature. It’s about equity, he said.
Others pointed out that the governor already tried to reduce subsidy rates last year.
The timing of LD 1894’s introduction is of note as well.
Earlier this month, the Maine Labor Relations Board rejected several points contained in a complaint filed by the MSEA and against the LePage administration. However, the board also ruled that the matter should go to trial to determine whether the administration negotiated in bad faith and interfered with union workers’ rights.
That decision was the latest in a drawn-out battle between LePage and the state’s largest public employees union.
Rep. Timothy Driscoll, D-Westbrook, said the bill seemed last minute and wondered if it might be better to bring it back for discussion next session.
Billings, however, said the issue was brought back because there is no current contract between the state and the union.
The Legislature’s labor committee is scheduled to take up LD 1894 later this week.