Family child-care workers in Maryland, beware. A union official will come knocking on your door soon.
A collective bargaining agreement Gov. Martin O'Malley signed with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500 last week gives the union broad access to the names, addresses and, ultimately, the checkbooks of family child care providers who participate in the state's child care subsidy program.
Mr. O'Malley described the first-ever collective bargaining agreement as a way to protect child-care workers. "The hardworking professionals of SEIU are vital to the healthy future of so many Marylanders, and it's our obligation to ensure their rights as contracted workers are protected, just as state employees are," he said.
In reality, it will likely force those not affiliated with the Local 500 to join the union, pay dues - and cost Maryland taxpayers millions in higher wages and benefits at a time when they are least able to afford more subsidies and when private-sector employers are cutting wages and benefits. (The SEIU Local 500 represents 18,000 people in child care and education.)
The agreement includes a 3 percent increase in subsidies to providers. It does not ask parents to pay more. The increase costs about $5 million over two years and will be paid for by federal stimulus dollars - for now. When those evaporate, Maryland taxpayers will likely be hit with the bill, along with millions more that the union negotiates in increased benefits.
To find out how this agreement might affect state taxpayers, it's worth looking at how collective bargaining agreements have affected child care elsewhere. Analysts Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell at the Reason Foundation, a free-market think tank in California, showed that they drive up costs without improving access for children. In a 2005 article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Quebec's day care program, they wrote that the program:
"...was supposed to cost $230 million over five years, but now gobbles $1.7 billion every year. Much of the increased spending has gone not toward increased access, but increased costs. Day care worker unions, on the threat of strike, negotiated a 40 percent increase in wages over four years. The cost of care has doubled since the program began, with the annual per-infant cost now exceeding $15,000."
The Maryland agreement gives the union control over negotiating pay, time off and the training of child-care providers. It puts union representatives on all committees choosing training vendors; puts the union in charge of overseeing how early childhood dollars should be spent if a comprehensive early childhood education law like the one noted in Quebec passes here; and requires the state to deduct union dues from payments to providers that the union says are members. This means one-person providers could be subject to rules about how to take care of their own children.
Loyola University Maryland economist Stephen Walters says there is another negative aspect of collective bargaining. "Through bloc-voting and generous campaign contributions, the unions are succeeding in 'hiring' the people they'll face across the negotiating table." In other words, state taxpayers will help to fund a group that will cement union-friendly politicians in office in a never-ending cycle.
Because Virginia does not allow collective bargaining for state employees or contractors, Mr. Walters said it is just one more reason, in addition to lower taxes, to choose that state over Maryland.
The worst part of the agreement is that it is probably the first of more to come. They will continue to ratchet up the cost of doing business in Maryland and deter the wealthy job creators necessary to pay for ever-increasing government largesse.
Marta Hummel Mossburg, a Baltimore resident, is a senior fellow with the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a columnist with the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared.