Vermont childcare providers breath sigh of relief; no union-yet

by Elsa Bosma, Shelburne
I had always been told that anyone can make a difference.  While that is most certainly true, I learned firsthand during the legislative session just how difficult that can be when you are facing a goliath with unlimited money and an army of lobbyists.   This past fall when it became apparent that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) was going to relentlessly push for the unionization of home childcare providers across Vermont, those of us who objected to this flawed strategy had to learn the legislative process – and learn it fast.
While I strongly support traditional unions and am happy to pay my husband’s union dues, as a self-employed small business owner, I am my own boss. I set my rates and days off through a contract with the families who entrust me with the care of their children.  The formation of a non-traditional union of childcare providers would grant the union “exclusive representation” on professional development, grievances, and subsidy negotiation. In other words, I would lose my individual voice and ability to affect change with anything pertaining to these topics.  The union could not negotiate for health benefits, insurance, or pay. In fact, unless the union was able to negotiate significantly higher subsidy rates (which can be done legislatively without union intervention, but it was not this past session), I would only see a decrease in my income.  Further, while I would technically have a “choice” to join, the “choice” is whether to be a full share member or not become a member but still pay agency fees, which are typically 80 percent of full share rates. I simply cannot understand how that is a choice.
So I went to work polling and forming an email list of those against the union, generated an online petition, started a Facebook page and created a website (www. nochildcareunioninvermont.com). I created and ordered buttons, manned a table at the Early Childhood Days at the Legislature, and co-organized multiple community forums with local Senators.  And while those in favor of unionization were compensated for the work they did trying to affect change, the money and time I spent came out of my own pocket.
I sent weekly, if not daily updates to my core group of providers, and that group kept growing.  Through all of this, other providers became empowered to do their own research, start questioning the “benefits” we had been promised by the AFT, and decided to use their voice to speak out against a union.  While it often felt like a David versus Goliath uphill battle, we had faith in the fact that our elected leaders would hear our passionate voices.
And hear us they did.  Near the end, hundreds of providers were calling and emailing their Senators daily asking them to vote against unionizing childcare providers. And when the legislature adjourned for the session, the unionization bill had not passed and childcare providers across Vermont breathed a collective sigh of relief – at least for now.
Currently we are over 200 providers strong, from all corners of Vermont.  We are committed to fighting this move for as long as it takes, and have already started ramping up for the next legislative session. Providers across the state have been empowered to reach out and use their voices. They are no longer intimidated (as I once was) to call their elected officials and share their opinions.
Through all of this, I have realized what a wonderful state we live in.  I can’t imagine there are many other states where you can call up your legislators and just talk with them.  Where you can go to the Statehouse, sit in the cafeteria, and strike up conversations with the legislators.   While I have always voted, I have learned just how important it is to know who I am voting for, and not just base my vote on party lines. And, most importantly, I have learned just how powerful home childcare providers can be!

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