California child care providers renew push for collective bargaining rights

California child care providers are renewing a push for collective bargaining rights, hoping that Gov. Gavin Newsom will grant them the power to negotiate they could not obtain from Gov. Jerry Brown.

They rallied at the Capitol and met with state lawmakers Wednesday morning to support legislation that they say would also strengthen early child care and education.

Family child care providers who participate in state-funded early child care and education programs do not have the right to bargain under labor laws, which cover only employees.

The state is not legally required to negotiate rates with child care providers, but a new bill could change that.

Assemblywoman Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, introduced AB 378 to create the legal framework to allow child care providers to negotiate with the state on issues such as rates, training requirements and other decisions that affect their work.

The bill, dubbed the Building a Better Early Care and Education System Act, would give bargaining rights to more than 40,000 child care providers in the state, many of which whom are women of color, according to organizers.

“There is no workforce more knowledgeable or passionate about California’s critical child care needs than this sector of providers, who labor every day to nurture our children and fuel our economy by making it possible for parents to report to work,” Limón said in a statement. “Creating quality jobs, not poverty jobs, for the child care workforce makes business sense, and common sense.”

Nearly 60 percent of the state’s child care workforce relies on government assistance programs, according to the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkeley.

Child care providers are working with Service Employees International Union and United Domestic Workers in their drive for bargaining rights.

Advocates in 2015 made a push for tens of thousands of home-based child care providers under Senate Bill 548, which would have resulted in the largest expansion of collective bargaining for a service with state funding since 1999. But the effort was abandoned when organizers said they were unlikely to get then-Gov. Jerry Brown on board.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has called for more spending on programs for children under the age of 5.

“People forget we are the reason we have such a good workforce,” said Nancy Harvey, an Oakland child care provider who traveled to the Capitol to speak with lawmakers. “When parents don’t have a reliable child care, they simply can’t go to work, and everything comes to a halt.”

Other child care providers say the want a seat at the table to discuss improving the way subsidized programs for low-income families are run.

“Some providers are skittish about taking (subsidized) programs, because with these programs, we often get paid a month later,” said Pat Alexander, who provides care for 13 children in Elk Grove. “It makes it hard for us to pay our employees and run a business.”

Harvey said she wants to see child care providers earn a liveable wage.

The problem is cyclical, some providers say: Parents cannot afford care, choose subsidized programs, and struggle to find space for their children, while programs find it challenging to cover costs and salaries.

Child care providers in 11 states, including Oregon and Washington, have the right to collectively bargain, according to Limón’s office, and have negotiated to reduce the cost of child care for low-wage workers, expand access to programs, and reduce and eliminate child care waiting lists.

Harvey said she is hopeful that the Newsom administration understands the impact of child care providers on families and the economy.

“These are folks who have gone to school, to nurture and educate children,” Harvey said. “We have evolved, so the system itself must evolve to meet the challenges we’re facing.”

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