Collective bargaining for family child care providers?

A group of children with their instructor. (Photo: Robert Kneschke, via Shutterstock)

As rents and inequality have soared, many workers haven’t had much to celebrate with a Labor Day picnic. The working moms and dads whose children I care for rarely get a holiday off — and that means neither do I. Long hours and irregular schedules are common for parents working nonstop to lift their families out of poverty. I’m one of them. 

But this Labor Day, I’m hopeful. Family child care providers like me are on the verge of winning a major victory with a three-fold effect: helping us improve opportunities for ourselves, the children in our care, and their parents who are struggling to get by.

The bill will end a decades-long, unfair exclusion that locked 40,000 family child care providers out of the right to collectively bargain.

After 16 long years of organizing, talking to elected officials, and forming our union, family child care providers are close to gaining the right to collective bargaining with the State of California. If we are successful, we’ll gain a seat at the table where decisions over pay, training, and workplace safety are made. We will have a real say in improving and expanding the early education system for children who are facing significant opportunity gaps – and strengthen early learning for all California children in the process.

Governor Gavin Newsom has centered his administration on his commitment to a “California for All” and he and First Partner Jennifer Seibel Newsom have renewed California’s focus on strengthening women and families. So our legislation, Assembly Bill 378 by Assemblymember Monique Limón, could hardly be more timely.

Soon headed to the Senate floor, when signed into law, the bill will end a decades-long, unfair exclusion that locked 40,000 family child care providers out of the right to collectively bargain. We are a majority women and people of color – and our mobilization of workers fighting for a union is the largest in the United States.

I opened up my home as a child care facility 49 years ago when my daughter was young and faced medical issues that required my care at home. Twenty-three years ago, my husband joined me when his own medical challenges forced him into “retire” despite no retirement benefits from his job.

Each day, Mr. Ed and I care for 13 children; they spend time planting vegetables in the outside garden and learning about our class pet, Pearl the hedgehog. We share three meals a day, and I make sure those meals are highly nutritious and meet each child’s dietary needs, ranging from picky eaters to vegans. Many of my kids spend more time in my care than they do at home, so I know it’s important to create an environment that is as welcoming as it is educational.

My husband and I each work 50-55 hours per week. After business expenses, we reported a combined $24,000 taxable income last year. That works out to about $4 per hour each.  Those figures show how lack of bargaining power has resulted in child providers struggling to keep our lights on and our doors open.

Many providers cannot afford to take time off for training.

Meanwhile, the fragmented child care system isn’t working for parents who need the quality care we provide. One mother has been on the waiting list for state child care assistance for 10 years. Another mom received an $80 per month raise – enough to disqualify her from state subsidies, but not enough to pay for day care. When our union is recognized, I plan to fight for access to quality care for all children.

Child care has changed dramatically in my 49 years as a provider. I have been fortunate to have opportunities to attend workshops and gain certifications, but many providers cannot afford to take time off for training. Bargaining rights will help child care providers access ongoing education and raise the bar on quality for early learning.

I feel empowered when I come together with other women and men to fight for our future and that of our children, whether we are white, Black, brown or Asian. That’s why giving child care providers the opportunity to lift up our own families and those we care for is one of the best things California leaders can do – changing lives for generations. That’s definitely something to celebrate this Labor Day.
Editor’s Note: Pat Alexander is the owner of Alexander Child Care. She has been a child care provider in California for 49 years and has been in Elk Grove since 2001. 

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