UFT members celebrating

PAL offers its hearty congratulations to the United Federation of Teachers and to the UFT Welfare Fund (the latter a member of the PAL coalition). 28,000 New York City home-based child care providers overwhelmingly voted to form a union with the United Federation of Teachers as their collective bargaining agent. The organizing drive was New York’s largest in decades, and was the result of an unprecedented collaboration between a union (UFT) and a community organization (ACORN).

As union members, these 28,000 child care workers will now to be able to negotiate for better wages and benefits (including, of course, health care). Child care workers usually receive incredibly low pay for work that is absolutely vital to the health, well-being, development and education of millions of children. High-quality child care from trained providers makes an enormous difference in children’s long-term development and educational success. Having a safe and nurturing place to send their children enables millions of parents to go to work. Yet child care workers often struggle to provide for their own families and often have no health coverage. How our society treats child care workers is a sad commentary on how we have failed to provide this essential profession the respect it deserves.

We welcome these 28,000 child care workers to the PAL coalition, through their benefit fund, UFT Welfare Fund. Their victory is a victory for them, their families, the Labor movement, and children everywhere.

Here is the UFT’s press release:

Home child care providers give resounding “yes!” to UFT

Oct 24, 2007 2:00 PM

Providers celebrate the victory at UFT headquarters

Culminating the city’s largest labor organizing drive in decades, New York City’s 28,000 home-based child care providers have voted overwhelmingly to form a union with the United Federation of Teachers as their collective bargaining agent, UFT President Randi Weingarten announced today.

According to the New York State Employment Relations Board (SERB), which tallied secret ballot cards mailed in between September 5 and October 15, the providers voted 8,382 to 96 to form a union that will be represented in contract talks by the UFT, which represents the city’s 110,000 public school educators.

“This vote caps a two-year drive to secure an economic and political voice for home child care providers,” Weingarten said, adding, “The UFT will soon begin negotiations for them and will seek the economic dignity and professional opportunities and respect they so deeply deserve but now lack.

“It is a privilege for the UFT to represent these hard-working providers,” she continued. “They share a bond with teachers in that they help educate and care for thousands of our city’s youngest children. We are grateful for this vote of confidence and we are committed to fighting for their interests and the interests of the kids they serve and integrating the providers into our union family.

“We and our affiliates at New York State United Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers want to help these providers help children make the transition to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten by ramping up what we started, giving the providers opportunities for professional development as well as access to curricula and training. The unionization and professionalizing of providers will give thousands of children who will enter our public school system the head start they need,” Weingarten said.

“We are thrilled that the providers have taken this ultimate step toward obtaining the compensation, dignity and respect they deserve,” said Bertha Lewis, executive director of the New York Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which worked hand-in-hand with the UFT on a two-year grass-roots campaign to organize the providers.

“This is one of the first genuine collaborations between a community organization and a major labor union, and the result is important for both,” Lewis continued. “Today we celebrate a major accomplishment that bodes well for all workers striving to become part of the middle class in New York City. This partnership between ACORN and the UFT shows that great things can be accomplished when progressive labor groups and community organizations work together.”

“Today marks a great victory for the over 28,000 providers who have joined the UFT, and I thank Randi Weingarten and ACORN for all their work these last few years to make this a reality,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “In voting to be represented by the UFT, these hard-working New Yorkers have cast a vote for a living wage, for quality health care, for the ability to retire with a pension,” she continued. “This is also a victory for New York City families whose children will now benefit from providers who have access to professional development, curriculum and training.”

Weingarten noted that the providers are among the lowest-paid workers in the region. A 2006 ACORN study showed that the average annual wage for family and group family providers in New York City is $19,933. The federal poverty line for a family of four in 2004 was $18,850. The providers have no health benefits, pension plan or paid vacations.

Luz Alvarez, a 53-year-old native New Yorker who provides care for children in her Manhattan home, said, “Thank Heaven we finally have a union. I’ve been a provider for eight years and in that time I’ve had one vacation, which was to attend my daughter’s wedding. The union can help us go in and negotiate a salary and other benefits so we can take a vacation once a year or take a sick day without losing pay.”

Weingarten said anything the UFT can do to improve services and working conditions for the providers will result in huge, long-term benefits for the children they care for. She cited the Perry Pre-School Study in Michigan, which tracked children from the ages of 3 or 4, when they began pre-school, into their 20s. The study participants had increased cognitive skills and higher academic achievement, improved graduation rates, more college enrollments and greater rates of employment. That study also estimated a savings of $7 for every dollar invested in early education through reduced special education needs, lower incarceration rates and reduced welfare and unemployment costs.

Weingarten thanked and congratulated ACORN and those who spearheaded the union-organizing effort, including UFT Vice President Michelle Bodden, Special Assistant to the President, Amina Rachman, special coordinator Fran Streich and several providers who merited special recognition for their contributions including Tammie Miller, Melvina Vandross, Nila Edwards, Shirley Middleton, Adele Kearny, Cheryl Ipperson, Gladys Jones, Jenni Rivera, Lourdes Lebron and Andrea Royal.

“Our providers did a lot of hard work over the past two years going door to door to enlist the support of their colleagues, getting cards signed, holding house meetings, attending rallies, writing letters, lobbying elected officials and making phone calls. They have done a real service for their brothers and sisters in the cause,” Weingarten said.

Weingarten also thanked key elected officials for supporting the organizing effort including Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat who had introduced legislation in the state Legislature to allow the providers to organize. Espaillat’s bill was approved by the Legislature but Gov. George Pataki vetoed it. Gov. Spitzer later approved the measure as an executive order.

Weingarten went on to thank state Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, state Senator Bill Perkins, former state senators Carl Andrews and Nick Spano, City Council Speaker Quinn and City Council members Bill de Blasio, Robert Jackson and Joel Rivera for supporting the organizing effort.

“It took a lot of hard work by a lot of people to get to this point, and there’s still much more work ahead of us,” said Bodden, who helped coordinate the union organizing effort. “But even so, we should take a moment to savor this victory and congratulate the providers for taking this bold step toward their empowerment.”

“Today the voices of thousands of city day-care providers have been heard,” said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, the UFT’s statewide affiliate. “These new union members join forces statewide with more than half a million NYSUT members who work in education and health care. As unionists, their voices will be amplified as together we seek the pay and respect that recognizes the important work they do.”

Nat LaCour, secretary treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, the UFT’s national affiliate, said the inclusion of the providers in the AFT marks the largest addition of workers unaffiliated with any other union or organization in the AFT’s history.

“There is an old saying in early childhood education: ‘Parents can’t afford to pay, workers can’t afford to stay, there’s got to be a better way.’ Today I believe that the UFT and ACORN have created that elusive better way,” LaCour said. “Together they have blazed a trail for a new form of community-focused union organizing that recognizes child care workers’ right to fair wages, children’s right to the best early learning experiences possible, and parents’ right to affordable and readily available, high-quality care.”

Following the vote count, several of the providers said they are thrilled to be part of a union with the ability to fight for a better way of life for them and their colleagues as well as better conditions for the children they serve.

“I’ve been doing this for four years now, and I couldn’t be happier about this vote because what the UFT will be able to do for us will improve the lives of thousands of children throughout New York City,” said Tammie Miller, a 40-year-old native New Yorker and a mother of two children attending city public schools who cares for children in her home in the Kensington section of Brooklyn.

“We are the children’s first teachers, so we represent hope in their lives just as the UFT represents hope in our lives. Without a union, without all this hard work, there was no hope for us,” Miller continued. “We always teach our children that if they work really hard they can be whatever they want. And that’s what we’ve been doing, working hard for two years now for what we want. We are living examples of that. Being in a union was just a dream at one point, and now it’s here.”

The UFT and ACORN already helped the providers by successfully lobbying the city and the state over the summer to pay some of them $160,000 in back pay. The UFT’s Teacher Center also sponsored free classes in childhood development, early preparation for literacy and other subjects for about 3,500 providers.

Weingarten said the next step will involve surveying the 28,000 providers to determine their contract priorities, goals and professional needs before seeking to begin negotiations with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

The UFT and ACORN had worked to unionize the providers for about two years in what had been the largest organizing drive in New York City since the UFT became a union in 1960 with 45,000 members.

After counting authorization cards it received from more than 12,000 New York City home day care workers last May, SERB certified that the UFT and ACORN surpassed the margin required for the workers to hold an election to join a union. The cards were filed May 17, less than a week after Governor Eliot Spitzer signed an executive order allowing more than 60,000 providers across the state to organize. Prior to the Governor’s action, the providers could not organize because the state treated them as independent contractors. His executive order effectively made the providers quasi-employees of the state, which permits the UFT to negotiate for them.

Signatures on the authorization cards from 30 percent of the total 28,000 city providers – fewer than 9,000 – were needed to trigger an election. SERB conducted a count of the city providers’ cards between July 12 and July 19 and determined that the margin was surpassed with 8,860 providers voting to hold an election. SERB scheduled the election and the UFT and ACORN embarked on a get-out-the-vote effort involving advertisements in local newspapers, rallies and door-to-door campaigning through the end of August.

SERB tallied the mailed in secret ballot cards yesterday. A simple majority was required for the UFT to become the providers’ collective bargaining representative. As a result of the vote, the UFT now represents the 28,000 providers in New York City. The Civil Service Employees Association is seeking to organize day care providers in the rest of the state.

New York is the eighth state to let home-based providers unionize. They receive government subsidies to watch, care for and educate children from low-income families in pre-school and after-school settings. They provide meals and snacks, help children with reading, learning colors and numbers, help with homework, direct safe play and change diapers.