The Minnesota Senate approved a Democratic-sponsored bill Wednesday to let unions try to organize daycare providers and personal care workers after a 17-hour debate that stretched through the night thanks to forceful opposition from Republicans.
Senators finally voted just after 8 a.m. Wednesday after having started the debate at about 3 p.m. the previous day. The debate grew bitter as it wrapped up, as Democrats accused Republicans of being hostile to working people while the GOP argued the bill was little more than a payoff to the Democratic Party's allies in organized labor.
"This union card put food on my family's table for years," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) as he held up the card while addressing fellow senators."It brought the car that sits out on the south lawn of the Capitol. It put my kids through college because without it, you're alone."
Bakk also chastised Republicans, saying their opposition showed why Democrats hold the Senate majority: "Because you just care about the wealthy."
After the debate, Senate Minority Leader David Hann charged that the bill was more about rewarding labor for its political donations to the DFL than improving circumstances for the workers in question.
"This is campaign payback, pure and simple," said Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
The bill passed by a vote of 35-32, with four Democrats from suburban Twin Cities districts joining all Republicans in opposition.
The legislation would allow union organizing votes by in-home child care workers who receive government subsidies, and by in-home attendants who care for the elderly and disabled. It's backed by the state chapters of AFSCME and SEIU, the two unions seeking to organize the workers.
"We're a large group of people who do the same kind of work, and standing alone we can only do so much," said Lisa Thompson, a St. Paul home child care provider who came to the Capitol for the Senate debate.
But Republicans said they have heard from child-care providers who oppose unionization, and that those who don't get state subsidies have no say in the formation of a union that could nevertheless have an effect on issues related to their business.
Sen. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, was one of the four Democrats to vote against the bill. She said she personally called all the home daycare providers in her suburban St. Paul district, and found that 90 percent were opposed to the bill.
"If you don't take subsidized children, you won't have a vote, and they felt that was not fair," Scalze said.
But the bill's author, Sen. Sandy Pappas, said unionizing new groups of workers has always faced initial opposition.
"There was resistance to unionizing teachers and nurses and firefighters, too," said Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. "They said the sky would fall if there were ever police unions. But that worked out. They've all been able to raise their wages and improve their benefits and negotiate for better working conditions."
The bill now heads to the House, which could vote on it as early as Saturday. Pappas predicted a close vote but said she thought it would pass.
The 17-hour debate in the Senate -- which the Star Tribune reported may have been the longest ever in the chamber's history -- showed rising discord between the two parties as lawmakers quickly approach Monday's deadline for adjourning the regular session. Bakk said he was concerned that Republicans would force marathon debates on a crop of budget bills that must be passed before the session can end.
"I think that would be a huge disappointment to the public and it'll be pretty clear where the blame lies if the session's not done on time," Bakk said. But Hann countered that Democrats could have avoided the logjam if they'd brought budget bills up for votes earlier than the last few days of session.
"If they run out of time, it's not our problem," Hann said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.