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Vt. Senate committee tosses child care union bill

Dave Gram, Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- A Vermont Senate committee on Tuesday threw out legislation that would have given home-based child care operators the right to unionize and negotiate with the state over day care subsidies and working conditions.

The Senate Economic Development Committee voted 3-2 to reject the measure after its co-sponsor Sen. William Doyle expressed reservations about allowing only state-subsidized day care providers to vote on whether to join the union. The Washington County Republican said he wanted those not receiving subsidies to be eligible to join as well.

Doyle was joined in opposition by the committee's chairman, Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, and Sen. Donald Collins, D-Franklin. Supporting the bill were Sens. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden, and Ann Cummings, D-Washington.

The hotly contested child care unionization effort has been discussed by lawmakers for the past three years and is supported by Gov. Peter Shumlin.

"This bill is about improving child care in Vermont by helping the providers," Shumlin said after the committee's vote. "We need to focus on quality care for Vermont's children, which will also help their hard-working parents. I'm disappointed the committee chose not to advance the bill."

The American Federation of Teachers' Vermont chapter had been leading the push for the legislation.

Supporters say it would give power to bargain for state subsidies and working conditions to home-based day care providers who are often, Cummings said, "isolated, voiceless and powerless."

Judy Pransky, a day care provider in St. Johnsbury and Cabot, said she was disappointed by Tuesday's outcome. "This is a profession that has been waiting for a long time to be recognized," she said, adding that day care is often utilized during preschool years, which are a crucial time for a child's development.

AFT officials said after the Senate panel's vote that they were examining their options, which could include trying to get a bill originated in the House or trying to attach the measure to another bill. They said they were disappointed but not giving up.

"It took five years to get a bill passed in Massachusetts," said AFT organizer Angela Timpone.

Opponents, including Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor and the president pro tem of the Senate, said the union would be "extremely atypical" in that it would include people who own their own small businesses and act as independent contractors when they receive subsidies from the state based on the incomes of families who bring their children to the centers.

Cummings said she had feared that allowing nonsubsidized providers to join the union would jeopardize the union organizing effort since most of those providers oppose the union. She said she was caught off-guard by Doyle voting against the legislation.

"Up until this morning, you had told us you were on board with the bill, so it was a surprise," Cummings said.

Doyle said he began signaling concerns about the bill and a change in his position to supporters more than a week ago.