Child Care Workers Finally Win Long Battle For The Right To Bargain For Better Pay

Tonia McMillian takes care of children at her home day care center in Bellflower. (Courtesy of Tonia McMillian)

Governor Gavin Newsom has signed AB 378, a bill that allows some child care workers who serve low-income kids to collectively bargain with the state over things like their reimbursement rates.

"Child care providers help our economy by allowing working families and parents to report to work," Newsom said in a statement. "Creating quality jobs for the child care workforce makes economic and common sense. These workers care for our kids - we need to take care of them."

The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara). "AB 378 remains committed to stabilizing those who educate our earliest learners and the families who seek care for their families as they remain in the workforce," she said prior to the bill's final vote in the Assembly last month.

SEIU California, which has been helping to organize the workers, co-sponsored the bill. Organizers say the law has been a long time coming.

Despite similar bills in previous legislatures, the effort has yet to make it past a governor's desk. Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown both vetoed similar bills.

Here's what you need to know about AB 378.

WHY DO CHILD CARE WORKERS WANT TO UNIONIZE?

The state subsidizes child care for some low-income families. According to the California Senate Appropriations Committee's analysis of AB 378, those subsidies support care for about 360,000 kids.

But while those in the field recognize the high cost of child care, they say the money they get from the state isn't enough.

"At the same time parents are struggling to pay their own rent, providers are struggling to pay our own rent and to pay expenses and keep our doors open," provider Tonia McMillian told KPCC/LAist in December, after Newsom's election.

McMillian is licensed to care for 14 kids out of her home in Bellflower. She said she loves working with the kids and serving families, but after 25 years it's taken a toll on her — plus, she said it doesn't give her retirement benefits or access to affordable health care.

"For providers, like myself, in order for us to make a 'decent living,' we have to work literally 80 hours a week in order to make ends meet. And that's not fair," McMillian said.

Games available for children at Tonia McMillian's home day care center. (Courtesy of Tonia McMillian)

And as Renaldo B. Sanders, a licensed family childcare provider serving nine children in Compton, pointed out, the money also goes to maintaining her place of business: her home.

"Our homes have to be taken care of — meaning our mortgage paid, our lights, our gas, our utilities — in order to provide our services to our family communities," she explained.

As Priska Neely explained on LAist after Gavin Newsom's election:

"Home daycares make up about a third of the total licensed child care supply. They're usually a more affordable option and are more likely to have slots for infants and toddlers than other child care settings.

The median income for family child care providers is around $12 an hour, and low pay, cuts to subsidies and lack of benefits are causing more and more of the businesses to close."

In fact, the text of the bill itself recognizes that over half of early educators in the state rely on public assistance.

AB 378 allows a certain group of child care workers — more on that below — to collectively bargain with the state over things like the reimbursement rates they receive.

The issue has come up several times. Organizers say the effort is over a decade in the making.

This time around the bill AB 378 was dubbed the Building a Better Early Care and Education Act and introduced by Assembly members Monique Limón and Lorena Gonzalez. And it's going to a governor who has emphasized early childhood education in his campaign, budgets, and staffing.

Organizers point to similar workers in 11 other states, including New York and Minnesota, who can collectively bargain.


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WHO EXACTLY IS NOW ABLE TO COLLECTIVELY BARGAIN?

The people we're talking about here are family day-care providers who educate and care for young kids in a daycare set up in their own home, or at the home of the kid they're taking care of, and who receive money from the state to provide this care for kids from low-income families.

For context: A fact sheet circulated by AB 378's author Assemblymember Limón says that adds up to about 40,000 child care workers.

Organizers with the SEIU say that most of those affected are women of color.

WHY UNIONIZE AND COLLECTIVELY BARGAIN?

The nature of the work - which is done at home - can be isolating.

McMillian said she first started looking towards the union because she was looking for community, "which then led me to find out that there were other issues."

Now, McMillian said, personally, she's interested in exploring the possibility of a substitute pool, in case she gets sick and needs someone to look over the kids. She's also interested in a potential career ladder that incentivizes providers to stay in the field.

The bill mentions all sorts of things open to negotiation, including reimbursement rates, professional development and training in supporting bilingual youth, and recruitment.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT ME?

Mary Gutierrez, strategic campaigns director with SEIU California, said the workers could start a conversation about expanding access to child care to more families who struggle to afford it.

McMillian said she sees the opportunity to not just advocate for the workers, but for parents and kids, too.

"It is high time now that we have a seat at the table so that we can bring the reality of this work to the table, have a discussion about it, and be considered a partner and making sure that this child care system, and this glorious state of California, is the best that it can be," McMillian said.

If passed, the child care providers would be represented by their local union within Child Care Providers United, a partnership between SEIU and AFSCME-UDW.

KPCC/LAist engagement producer Stefanie Ritoper contributed to this report.

This story has been updated to include all unions involved.

UPDATE, Oct. 1, 2019: This article was updated to reflect that Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 378 into law on Sept. 30.