Judge shuts down child-care unionization by executive fiat in MN

Yesterday, a Minnesota court struck a blow for separation of powers and defied Governor Mark Dayton in his attempt to featherbed for his union backers.  Dayton had issued an executive order for a union election among 4300 child-care businesses that care for children on a state subsidy program.  Ramsey County Judge Dale Lindman ruled that Dayton should have asked the legislature to pass such a law rather than issue an executive order, rebuking Dayton:

A Ramsey County judge delivered a setback to union organizers and a rebuke to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday by halting a pending election seeking to unionize thousands of Minnesota child care workers.

In issuing a temporary restraining order, Judge Dale Lindman said the unionization issue should have gone through the Legislature rather than Dayton’s approach of calling the vote through an executive order.

“If unionization of day care is to become the law of Minnesota, it must first be submitted to the lawmaking body of the state,” Lindman said after hearing three hours of arguments from a bank of attorneys. His order remains in effect at least until another court hearing on Jan. 16.

Opponents of the union drive argued that Dayton governor exceeded his powers and designed an election that would have prevented many providers from weighing in. Their attorney, Tom Revnew, told the judge that nothing in state law “directs small business owners or employers to engage in an election. It’s simply not there.”

The Star Tribune offers a lighter version of the rebuke:

A Ramsey County judge on Monday blocked a vote on child-care unionization that was to have started Wednesday among thousands of providers across Minnesota.

The ruling came after some child-care providers and Republicans said Gov. Mark Dayton overstepped his authority in calling for the vote last month. Ramsey County District Judge Dale Lindman said he respected the governor’s executive powers but was not persuaded that the unionization vote had to take place so quickly.

“I just believe the process should go through” the Legislature, Lindman said. He issued a temporary restraining order that will prevent mail-in ballots from going out on Wednesday. “I don’t understand where there’s a need for speed.” …

The election was to have started on Wednesday, with a two-week period for mail-in ballots. Although there are 11,000 licensed child-care providers in Minnesota, Dayton’s order would have restricted the election to 4,300 providers eligible to care for children on a state subsidy program. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), along with the Service Employees International Union have been organizing that subset for years.

Bear in mind that these child-care centers are not owned or run by the state, but are independent businesses.  Dayton issued the order on the basis that the state subsidy more or less made them a common labor pool answerable to the state government, an intent that has not been endorsed by the Minnesota legislature.  The child-care operators strongly objected to this effort, as did the legislature itself in seeing the governor trample on the legislative process.

Gary Gross has been following the case closely the last few months, and declares victory:

This is a major, crushing blow to Gov. Dayton, AFSCME Council 5 and the SEIU. … Gov. Dayton only has the authority to call for unionization elections if public employees are involved. If Judge Lindman indeed ruled that these child care providers weren’t public employees, then that’s why Judge Lindman issued his order.

Victory isn’t yet complete.  Lindman only temporarily barred the election, and will conduct further hearings on the matter.  The issue here is whether the acceptance of customers who receive public subsidies makes a private business a public-sector workplace that is subject to executive orders without any chance to have the legislature debate such a distortion of the law.  This has a much greater impact than just the 4300 child-care workers who suddenly discovered that their governor had declared them to be servants of the state rather than the private businesspeople they had considered themselves previously in order to allow his labor allies a chance to bully them into paying dues to the public-employee unions.  Keep an eye on Minnesota and the Ramsey County courts to see whether the separation of powers in government will continue to have any meaning, and remember that the “Democrat” in DFL is apparently an anachronistic vestige rather than a description of current philosophy.