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California Child Care Providers Make History With Unionization Vote

July 28, 2020

By Steve Wishnia

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—After 17 years of trying, 43,000 California childcare providers finally have a union.

“This is not just a victory for union rights and economic justice. As a movement led by women of color, today’s win is also an important step in the march toward gender justice and racial justice.” — AFSCME International President Lee Saunders

The union, Child Care Providers United, won 97% of the vote in representation-election results announced July 27. An alliance of SEIU Local 99 in Los Angeles, SEIU Local 521 in San Jose, and the United Domestic Workers in San Diego, AFSCME Local 3930, it will represent “family providers,” who run child-care centers in their own homes and are paid by the state.

“Who would have thought that the moment we have waited for for 17 years would happen during a global pandemic?” exulted Zoila Carolina Toma, a provider from Signal Hill, a small city outside Los Angeles, during a Zoom meeting celebrating the vote.

Nancy Harvey, 58, of Oakland, invoked the memory of the Black Panther Party marching through her West Oakland neighborhood when she was a child and that of the late civil-rights activist Rep. John Lewis, “who told us to get into ‘good trouble.’”

“Today we begin the formal fight for the respect and dignity we deserve,” said Miren Algorri.

The CCPU says its organizing campaign, which began in 2003, was the largest in the nation this century. It was stymied when previous California governors vetoed legislation that would have allowed home-based child-care providers to unionize, but Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Building a Better Early Care and Education System Act, sponsored by state Rep. Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara), last September. 

That law made California the 12th state that lets home-based providers join unions; others include New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois. It not only authorizes providers to bargain with the state to get better pay and win benefits such as health insurance, Local 99 says, but also to negotiate for improvements to the early education system, such as increasing funding for subsidized child care and improving access for low-income children and families who cannot afford it.

“California can afford it,” Local 99 says. “California is the fifth-largest economy in the world. It’s time every corporation pay their fair share to give the Golden State the world-class early education we deserve.”

“For 17 years, you kept educating, organizing, and mobilizing up and down the state,” AFSCME International President Lee Saunders told the meeting. “This is not just a victory for union rights and economic justice. As a movement led by women of color, today’s win is also an important step in the march toward gender justice and racial justice.”

Both he and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry praised the providers for working during the coronavirus epidemic, enabling hospital, janitorial, security, and grocery workers to keep doing their jobs.

“Going through what we’re going through with COVID and understanding how important child care is, we are very excited,” Assemblymember Limón said.

“We intend to use the Child Care Providers United to create a better and more equal society for generations to come,” said Henry.

“Cuando luchamos, ganamos” — when we struggle, we win —said Riko Mendez, head of SEIU Local 521.

The struggle to organize “led to improvements in the industry” before providers could legally unionize, said Local 99 executive director Max Arias, speaking in English and Spanish. Now that CCPU has the power to bargain, he added, its vision is of “excellent early education for all” and that educators of small children be valued.

Zoila Toma, standing in front of a green wall with “the future of the world is in this classroom” painted on it, said the union had helped her get an associate’s degree in child development.

Nancy Harvey said she wanted to win a good retirement plan, so people don’t have to work until they’re too old to tell the difference between “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider.”

“That lamb’s got no business going up the water spout,” she quipped.

July 28, 2020

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