Union power grab

Originally published in the Frederick News-Post

At a time when the state has no money to spare, Gov. Martin O'Malley wants to give more power to one union at the expense of family child care workers, the families they serve and, ultimately, taxpayers.

He authorized collective bargaining for family child care providers who receive state subsidies in 2007. In October he signed a memorandum of understanding with SEIU Local 500, which won the exclusive right to represent those providers. Why providers need a union to represent them should still be a question. They are not people known for braving dangerous working conditions or onerous bosses, as many care for their own children or those of relatives.

SEIU Local 500 was not content with the contract, which gives it access to the names and contact information of the 4,942 providers who receive state subsidies to care for children, a boon for recruiting dues-paying members. The memorandum of understanding also gives the union power over training materials and hiring outside vendors to perform training.

To further help a large Democratic campaign contributor, the O'Malley administration introduced legislation to give the union more power over small-business owners and the families and children served by them. The administration says the legislation, Senate Bill 284, would only "codify" the memorandum of understanding.

That is a farce. Rolf Grafwallner, assistant state superintendent of early childhood development, said, "It could lead to all providers having to pay a service fee." The reason this could happen is that under the legislation collective bargaining could include negotiations about the union's right to charge a service fee to nonmembers.

Donna Fowler, director of public policy for the Maryland State Family Child Care Association, which opposes that provision in the bill, said another problem with it is low-income families could be dropped when the union negotiates higher reimbursements for providers.

A limited amount of money exists for the subsidy program, so any increase to providers is likely to come at the expense of families in the program or out of the wallets of taxpayers -- or both, as a similar program in New York City demonstrates.

According to a May 14, 2009 article in the New York Daily News, "Under a deal brokered by the city, which will cost $80 million, the workers will get the raises owed since 2007. At the same time, more than 1,100 children of low-income parents who are either looking for jobs or can't work because of illness will lose child care."

The union did not return phone calls requesting comment. But no doubt it will say it is not their intent to boot needy children from the program. Intent is no substitute for economic reality, however. With the state facing billion-dollar-plus deficits in coming years, the only way to maintain or add children to the program -- the alleged intent of the state -- would be to pull money away from other programs or raise taxes.

About the only good thing in the legislation is that it does not make child care providers who accept subsidies employees of the state or automatically force them to join the union. That happened in Michigan in 2006 to 40,000 family child care providers, the vast majority of whom never voted to join a union and now have millions in dues subtracted from state payments to them and funneled to the union. To read more about the situation in Michigan, visit mackinac.org.

O'Malley keeps saying he wants to help small businesses -- the engines of job growth -- succeed. If that is the case, supporting legislation to make it more difficult for 4,942 family child care providers to hire people and pay their bills will not fulfill his goal.

(Marta Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. She can be reached at mmossburg@mdpolicy.org.)