Historic Union Election Establishes Statewide Union of PA Home-Based Child Care Providers

New Union a Sign of Labor Reinventing Itself to Fit Today’s New Economy, with Pennsylvania at the Forefront
Date of Press Release: 
November 1, 2007

Harrisburg, November 1, 2007--Pennsylvania, with a long tradition of innovation in expanding worker voice, took another step into the history books yesterday, becoming home to a new kind of union whose members often wear party hats rather than hard hats, and forge character rather than steel.

Following a union certification election in which votes in favor of forming a union exceeded votes against by 96% to 4%, some 3,700 home-based child-care providers across the state became members of a new kind of union, Child Care Providers UNITED (CCPUNITED).

The campaign to form a union of Pennsylvania home-based child-care providers caps a decades-long effort by a coalition of teachers, aides, and “new” unionists. These champions of child-care unionism believe that unionizing workers in a way that “fits” the field of early childhood education will mean better education for kids as well as better jobs and careers for educators.

“It is actually a triple victory,” said Stephen Herzenberg, PhD., executive director of the Keystone Research Center (KRC) in Harrisburg. “It’s a win for the children and families that depend on quality early childhood education, which will now get a better shot at the resources necessary to keep high quality providers in the field. It’s a win for family providers, who’ll have a united voice for family sustaining pay and benefits. And it’s a win for all of Pennsylvania because research shows that each dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education returns as much as $10 back long term.”

Herzenberg said that while the new child care union does not look exactly like the industrial unions of the past, this is not the first time U.S. unions have had to reinvent themselves to fit with a new economy.

“Unions come in all shapes and sizes,” he noted. “Many people see unions as organizations for strictly industrial or manufacturing jobs because those have been the most visible unions since World War II. But history shows us that those manufacturing unions were themselves once new, taking center stage only in the 1930s, after a century in which craft unions of cigar makers, plumbers, and electrical workers were the dominant kind of union. The fact is that unions are changing all the time.”

Similar to manufacturing unions in the 1930s, Herzenberg added, child care unions have had to adapt to the unique challenges of a new economic era, and it has not always been easy.

“While manufacturing unions were held together by opposition to the boss and workers’ desire for fair treatment on the factory floor, Pennsylvania’s child-care providers are united by their commitment to raising and maintaining educational standards. They have created a union to strengthen their ability to access public resources sufficient to do right by the children who come into their homes every day.”

The new child-care union also brings together licensed home-based providers dispersed across thousands of homes statewide into a single union.

“The problem of workers being dispersed across many small workplaces is common to many parts of today’s economy,” Herzenberg said, “in offices, retail outlets, health care centers—even in the manufacturing sector, in which mammoth factories have been replaced by high-tech plants with less than 250 workers.”

”In all of these industries, workers are interested in decent pay, training and career ladders, retirement benefits, and affordable health care. By modeling how a new union spanning many workplaces can improve jobs, raise skills, and elevate quality, Pennsylvania’s child-care union has the potential to point the way to a broader revival of unions. By helping workers in many industries become more skilled and productive, such a union revival could strengthen the economy as well as the middle class.”

Pennsylvania’s new union of home-based child care providers, CCPUNITED, is a unique collaboration of two of the major unions now organizing child-care workers across the country. The joint venture was formed specifically to organize

home-based providers in Pennsylvania and is affiliated with Service Employees  International Union (SEIU)-Kids First and the United Child Care Union (UCCU) within the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

KRC has been a champion for and partner of innovative child-care unions since the Center’s creation in 1996. KRC held a workshop on the potential of new
unions of child-care workers at its inaugural conference in 1996. In 1998, KRC
partnered with a Philadelphia non-profit to organize the first national strategy session that brought together unions interested in organizing early childhood educators, leading advocates and professionals from the field, and researchers knowledgeable about different forms of unionism. At the national level, KRC has served as a bridge between unions and early childhood education professional organizations and advocates. The Center has encouraged unionism led by the organic leadership within early childhood education, which has a deep commitment to children and to quality. Child-care unionism tends to succeed most where the organic leadership in the field sees a union as a way of achieving both quality education and quality jobs.

The Keystone Research Center is an independent, non-partisan think tank the mission of which is to promote a more prosperous and equitable Pennsylvania.