Jennifer Parrish: Take It from Someone Who’s Been There, Child Care Workers: Don’t Unionize

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) recently filed a petition with the Rhode Island Labor Relations Board seeking the right to exclusively represent and bargain on behalf of home-based child care providers.  These providers, who typically run their small businesses out of their homes, are not the first to face this new and controversial type of unionization.

As a Minnesota family child care provider, I was first approached by the SEIU in 2006 when an unknown man walked into my home, uninvited, asking me to sign a petition to the state for health insurance. He was persistent and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. After arguing with me for some time, he finally left the petition for me to look over and sign with the understanding that he would be back later to retrieve it.

When I had time to read the fine print, I was shocked to see the word “union.”  He neither identified his union affiliation nor disclosed that the card had anything to do with unionization. The tactics used in an attempt to gain my signature left me feeling violated.

After speaking with other child care providers throughout Minnesota and eventually in other states, I learned that my experience was far from isolated.  Nearly every provider I spoke with believed that by signing this card they would receive more information about obtaining health care, increased training opportunities, or increasing child care reimbursement rates. I couldn’t find any who were fully informed that signing that card meant they supported unionization or wanted to join the SEIU.

To learn more of the costs and potential benefits, we attended union-sponsored informational meetings and were full of questions — most of which went unanswered.  Those who asked too many questions were often escorted out of meetings by union representatives.

Since the union refused to answer our questions, we formed a coalition and began researching child care unionization on our own, collecting such basic facts as the cost of dues, how child care unions were formed, and how they performed in other states.  We compiled this information on a website (, and providers soon learned of the vast divide between the union’s claims and reality.

Over the years, we’ve been contacted by founding members, previous presidents, and officers of child care unions in other states who are disgruntled that the union they supported and believed held so much promise led nowhere — that it was nothing more than a way for the SEIU to collect millions from the child care assistance program intended to help low-income families.

In Illinois, for example, only a tiny percentage of the providers (paying up to $900 per year in dues and fees) received health insurance.  The “raises” in reimbursement rates the union has negotiated have been minimal; barely keeping up with the rising cost of child care. Six years after unionization, 20,000 fewer children in Illinois were being served by the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program.

So who actually benefits from child care unionization? The SEIU does. Since it began charging dues and fees, the SEIU has taken a staggering $60 million dollars from the child care providers in Illinois.

When Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri vetoed a similar attempt back in 2005, he described this as “the Trojan Horse of the effort by organized labor.”  His predictions were spot on, but it’s not too late.

Child care providers, the union is at your door, full of promises, but in reality, unionization will have disastrous consequences for your businesses and the children and families you serve. Rhode Island’s child care professionals deserve better than empty promises and compulsory dues.  They deserve to have access to all the facts regarding this intrusion into their independent businesses, so they can be fully prepared to participate in the upcoming election and vote “no.”

Jennifer Parrish operates a child care business out of her home in Minnesota and has been working against unionization efforts there and across the country. Visit Child Care Union Information.

Are you a child care worker in Rhode Island with concerns about the push to unionize you? The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity would like to hear from you. Email

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