Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New Frontiers

A new labor battle
Child-care workers are organizing, but some states resist.
By David Crary
Associated Press

PAWTUCKET, R.I. - The living room teems with toys and picture books; six small children are snacking around a tot-size table. Yet Norma Tetrault's home, as much as any union hall or picket line, represents a pivotal front for America's embattled labor movement.

Women such as Tetrault, working from home, have become foot soldiers in a difficult but potentially momentous nationwide campaign to unionize hundreds of thousands of low-paid child-care workers.

Unprecedented breakthroughs have come recently in Illinois and a few other states, while in Rhode Island - despite a strong union legacy - there were painful setbacks last year.

Nationally, child-care providers are among the lowest-paid of U.S. workers, often earning less than $10 an hour. A recent federal survey listed only 18 other types of jobs, out of 770, that paid less.

The low pay, lack of health insurance and other benefits, and a sense of being disrespected has produced a legion of workers open to unionization. And their interest is now reciprocated: Faced with declining overall membership, major unions see child-care providers as a vital source of potential growth and are competing to represent them.

"This is a very untraditional area in terms of organizing," said Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union, which is at the forefront of efforts to represent the providers.

"It's mostly women, working in their own homes," Burger said. "The fact that they're wanting to come together and have a collective voice is remarkable. It shows their determination and creativity."


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