At Morgan Kittredge’s home in Vergennes, children spend most of their day playing games and putting together puzzles.
From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Kittdredge’s home doubles as a childcare facility. Engaging kids, cleaning the kitchen, submitting attendance for subsidy – it’s a lot of work.
"Eleven hours on the clock, but there’s one to two hours every day that I’m not on the clock, but there are things that I need to do to maintain my home to make sure it’s safe for children," Kittredge said.
Kittdredge sees few benefits in forming a union for self-employed childcare providers. She says union dues – however small – could put her out of business.
"That’s still a cost that I’d have to pass on to parents, and childcare is expensive for everybody,"
she said. "They don’t want to have to pay more."
On Wednesday, a key Senate committee will consider whether to extend collective bargaining rights to child care providers. The Senate Economic Development Committee will take testimony on a bill that would allow workers to form a union.
Supporters say the measure would improve the quality of early education in Vermont, but self-employed providers like Kittredge are concerned union payments could undermine their work.
Last year the Senate debated whether to allow childcare providers to unionize, but legislation got bottled up in committee – lawmakers never passed a bill. Now, supporters are pushing for a stripped-down version this session.
"This year we’re getting our first shot at a clear hearing," said Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, the lead sponsor of the childcare unionization bill.
He said this measure would simply authorize providers to bargain collectively. "It’s not as though we’re saying, ‘We’re going to make you have a union.’ They’re saying, ‘Could we please have a union?’ And I think the state should say, ‘If you want,’" McCormack explained. "The union still has to convince them that that’s what they want to do."
Supporters like McCormack say collective bargaining and agency fees would help childcare workers to negotiate better pay and working conditions, and would improve overall service to families. They dismiss claims that fees would undermine self-employed childcare providers.
Still, there are critics.
As she held her daughter and watched over five other children on a recent weekday morning, Morgan Kittredge said it doesn’t make sense to unionize a group of people who are their own employers.
"I don’t know that it would necessarily put me out of business, but it would make it more difficult for me to have a living," Kittredge said.
"If someone wants to call me a glorified babysitter I’m perfectly OK with that," she added. "I don’t do this for the title. I don’t do this for recognition."
Instead, Kittredge said she wants to be able to afford to stay home with her kids while helping other families work and feel that their children are safe.
As lawmakers continue to debate how to subsidize early childhood education, Governor Peter Shumlin and labor leaders are hoping the childcare unionization bill will pass this session.
They say the bill will support many women in Vermont who are doing work that is often undervalued by society.
The Senate Economic Development Committee will hold a public hearing at the Statehouse on Wednesday beginning at 6 p.m.
Read the bill here.