Capitol Alert

California child care workers gain new union rights to bargain with the state for higher pay

Tens of thousands of California child care providers gained new rights to bargain for better wages and health benefits under a new law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed on Monday, the labor unions sponsoring the bill announced.

The new law will apply to more than 40,000 workers who care for families that receive child care cost assistance from the state. It will allow them to negotiate with the California Human Resources department over wages and health care benefits.

The legislation, authored by Assemblywoman Monique Limon, D-Goleta, also gives unions rights to attend orientation meetings for child care workers and promote their union. It also requires the state to give unions contact information for child care providers.

Charlotte Neal, who runs a 24-hour child care business out of her home in Sacramento, worked with the unions to advocate for the bill and is one of the providers the new law will affect. She said her pay varies month to month and that it’s difficult to make a living wage.

“It’s a struggle every month to decide what I’m going to pay for,” Neal said. “I love my kids, they’re just like my own kids, but it’s hard.”

Two labor unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union California, co-sponsored the bill.

Sen. Jeff Stone, a Republican from Temecula, voted against it and said it demonstrated labor’s influence over the Legislature.

“This is nothing more than a union grab,” Stone told his colleagues during a Senate floor debate on the bill. “It’s very clear that this institution is strongly controlled by labor.”

The Legislature’s fiscal committees estimate legislation will cost the state millions of dollars in increased workload for state staff to negotiate with the workers and potential increased wages for child care providers.

But supporters of the bill say the workers currently barely make enough to make ends meet and should be paid more.

During a speech in support of the bill on the Senate floor, Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said the affected workers currently make “poverty wages.” Better pay for providers will allow them to better care for California children, the Los Angeles Democrat said.

Researchers at UC Berkeley found in 2011 that the highest paid child care workers at licensed day care centers made less than $35,000 per year on average.

Neal says negotiating for higher pay will give her more stability and allow her to spend more to give her kids quality care, such as buying teaching materials for her preschool-age children to prepare them for kindergarten.

“We just want to have a seat at the table,” she said.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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