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WA Childcare Centers Explore Right to Organize

March 5, 2008

Olympia, WA – It's a new twist on unionizing. Instead of workers negotiating with employers, childcare centers and their workers want collective bargaining rights with the state. A bill aiming to allow that is on the Senate floor this week. Washington pays a subsidy to help poor families get childcare, but care providers say it's not enough to cover their costs or retain qualified employees.

Mary Jo Shannon of the American Federation of Teachers says collective bargaining could lead to better wages, more training and better care for kids.

"One of the problems facing the industry is the fact there’s so much turnover, and it’s because the wages are so low and access to benefits is very, very limited."

Shannon notes large providers, such as YMCAs and national childcare chains, are exempted from the provisions of the bill, but the legislation would affect about 1,200 childcare centers around the state.

Shannon says although childcare providers know they're playing an important role in the lives of kids, the industry doesn't get the respect it deserves, and a stronger voice could change that.

"That's really what the fight's about and what the teachers and directors are really clear on. There's lots and lots of research that says this time in a child's life is really the most significant."

Opponents say not all childcare center owners support the effort, and could refuse to take state-subsidized children in order to avoid joining a union. If the bill becomes law, each center would be part of a bargaining unit organized by geographic district, Shannon explains. For individual teachers, however, union membership would remain an option, not a requirement.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA