MARSHALL - Minnesota senators burned plenty of midnight oil Tuesday on the day care unionization issue.
In the end - after about 17 hours of debate - the Senate passed a bill to allow the unionization of home child care and personal care workers in Minnesota.
District 17 Democratic Sen. Lyle Koenen of Clara City said the Republican caucus clearly had strong feelings about the bill - strong enough to offer numerous amendments, which is why the debate lasted into the morning hours.
"We could tell that, and we made the decision to let them go as long as they wanted to," he said. "It showed how important it was to them. A lot of it was their caucus doing the talking, although they did ask some of our caucus questions. Mostly, we let them do what they wanted to (Tuesday night)."
The Senate voted shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday, and the bill passed on a vote of 35 to 32, with four majority suburban Democrats voting with Republicans against it.
Republicans have been fighting against the bill, calling it an opportunity for unions to collect millions of dollars in dues from providers who have no intention to unionize. The Associated Press said Senate Minority Leader David Hann charged that the bill was more about rewarding labor for its political donations to the DFL than improving circumstances for the workers in question.
The bill would give two groups of workers the right to vote on whether to form unions. It would allow a union vote for some personal care attendants who care for the elderly and disabled people in the home, in addition to in-home family child care workers who are being organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The bill is supported by AFSCME and Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Koenen voted for the bill because he said it would at least give day care providers and personal care attendants the option of unionizing, although he doubts there would be enough support from either camp to form a union.
To do that, 30 percent of providers or attendants would have to sign off on unionizing. A 50 percent-plus one vote would then be needed to form a union.
"Although it's one bill, those are two separate deals; those two votes are completely separate from each other," Koenen said. "If my mail is accurate, I don't think it will ever happen, but mail isn't a scientific poll, either. Using that as a guide, they're way overwhelming against wanting to form a union. I don't think they would ever get the votes."
The bill now heads to the House, where it could come up for a vote Saturday.
District 16A Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, calls the bill's success to date "concerning as it contradicts the will of Minnesotans, who are overwhelmingly opposed to it. A very large percentage of those that took my legislative survey say they are not in favor."