California Child Care Providers Unionize: 'It's Time To Demand What We Deserve'

A home day care in South Los Angleles. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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Child care providers have overwhelmingly voted to be represented by a union in collective bargaining with the state over better pay and other benefits.

"We waited 17 years for this," Zoila Toma, a home child care provider from Signal Hill, said in a Zoom call celebrating the election results. "It's time to demand what we deserve, what our families deserve, what the people in California deserve."

About 43,000 providers were eligible to vote in the mail-in election between June 22 and July 22. Of the 9,340 returned ballots, 97% favored representation by Child Care Providers United, a partnership between labor groups SEIU and AFSCME.

The election was almost two decades in the making. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation in September 2019 that gave the right to collectively bargain to providers who care for children from low-income families on public assistance.

Wendy Moran shows the schedule she's shet up for the children at her 24 hour child care center. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

These providers, most of whom are women of color, rely on payments from the state to provide care and say the rates work out to lower than minimum wage for the hours they work. Many of the providers earn so little that they often qualify for public assistance themselves.

The election happened in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has highlighted both the challenges providers face in a system that's been underfunded for years, and child care's role in educating young children while allowing parents to work.

"This has always been the part that we've always played," said Inglewood home child care provider Sue Carrera. "And now we're going to get the acknowledgement that we deserve."

More than three-quarters of California child care providers say they're losing income with fewer families enrolled, and 80% say it costs more to buy the cleaning supplies and protective equipment needed to operate, according to a survey from UC Berkeley's Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.

Carrera's doorbell rang at 8 a.m. on Monday morning and she ushered the first six children of the day into her home. In between breakfast, lunch and reorganizing her den-turned-classroom, Carrera told LAist she was working on reframing how she thinks about the future for child care providers.

She says she wants to use a stronger word than hope.

"I'm trusting that, as a union, now we can organize ourselves in a way where our voices will be heard over-and-above a lot of other voices," Carrera said. "Please listen to us and please understand what work we do."

CHALLENGING NEGOTIATIONS AHEAD

The California Public Employment Board certified the election results. Child Care Providers United plans to survey members to determine what to prioritize in negotiations with the state, and then elect a bargaining committee.

The union will soon find out how many of the 43,000 eligible providers are willing to join and pay dues of $10 a month.

Dozens of California child care providers rallied in Sacramento before dropping off signatures calling for a union election Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (Screenshot from the Child Care Providers Union Facebook Page)

The Supreme County ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public sector unions can't require workers to pay union dues or fees.

SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias outlined the vision of the union's goals: "A world-class early education system here in California, in which every child has access to the early excellent education, and everybody that works providing that education is valued as the professional that they are."

The road to higher wages for these providers will be challenging.

This year Gov. Newsom proposed reducing provider rates 10% as part of wider cuts to help close the state's $54 billion budget deficit. The existing reimbursement rates were ultimately preserved, but those rates are already based on an outdated survey of what California child care costs.

"It's a shame on us for not stepping up to our values and paying the proper rate to make these programs viable for providers and for families," Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) told LAist earlier this month. He has sponsored legislation that would overhaul the entire payment system.

GO DEEPER INTO LAIST'S COVERAGE OF THIS HISTORIC ELECTION