By Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Child care providers who operate out of their homes do not have to join a union or pay dues if they do not wish, under a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that is reverberating in Massachusetts.
During passage of a 2012 state law that allows home-based child care and personal care providers to join a union, lawmakers who supported the measure said it would allow providers to negotiate with the state over payment rates.
In April, six women who provide in-home care filed a separate lawsuit in Massachusetts courts to stop implementation of the law, arguing it was intended to designate the Service Employees International Union as the "monopoly political representative" of providers, with "forced dues and fees." The women sued the Department of Early Education and Care and SEIU. The case has not yet been decided.
The Massachusetts law gives home care providers the option of joining a union, but does not require them to join, according to Johannes Buchanan, legislative director for Sen. Gale Candaras, a Democrat from Wilbraham who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
In Harris v. Quinn, the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a similar Illinois law, ruling that individuals who indirectly receive state subsidies based on their clientele cannot be forced to pay compulsory union fees. The court's ruling rendered unconstitutional similar home care unionization laws in 14 other states, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the group that filed the federal lawsuit in the Illinois case.
Last Friday, SEIU officials notified Massachusetts home child care providers that they will not collect dues from anyone who does not want to join the union, according Kathleen D'Agostino, a Watertown resident who is a plaintiff in the suit filed in Massachusetts.
"Now here in Massachusetts we have a choice," D'Agostino said Tuesday.
A spokesman for SEIU said child care providers always had a choice.
"Despite the anti-worker rhetoric and misinformation from national special interest groups, Massachusetts providers remain united in their efforts to ensure every child has access to quality early education and care," Jason Stephany, a spokesman for SEIU Local 509, said in an emailed statement. "Thousands of early childhood educators in Massachusetts have come together to form their union in recent years."
D'Agostino said when the child care unionization law was implemented in Massachusetts any child care provider who accepted state vouchers for low-income children was being forced to join SEIU.
D'Agostino said that SEIU began deducting dues in June from some providers who care for children with state vouchers. She said she spoke with one child care provider who had $300 deducted from her check.
"It all depended on the number of children in your program with a voucher," she said.
Stephany disputed the claim, saying only those who signed up as members have paid dues.
"This latest attack from a Washington D.C. anti-worker group is just another attempt to roll back the unprecedented strides Bay State providers have made towards improving the quality of early education and expanding access to affordable child care in Massachusetts," Stephany said in the statement.
D'Agostino said the group of home child care providers who filed the suit argued there was no benefit to belonging to the union. The state pays $28 a day for child with a voucher, according to D'Agostino.
"That was our big thing. That is why were fighting it. We were only declared state employees for the purpose of unionizing us, and forcing us to join SEIU," she said.