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Child Carers and Unions Explore Strategy for More Pre-K

December 24, 2013

Panelists at The Worker Institute
Panelists discuss ways to expand universal pre-K

By Marc Bussanich 

New York, NY—Childcare researchers, activists and unionized childcare workers from New York and Canada discussed ways last week on how they can work with parents and communities to expand access to affordable childcare and ensure childcare workers earn a decent living in the childcare sector. Watch Video of discussions 

They gathered at Cornell University’s The Worker Institute’s offices on Thursday evening, December 19 where childcare union members such G.L. Tyler, political director of AFSCME’s DC 1707, and Deborah King, executive director for 1199SEIU’s Training and Employment Funds, participated.

This past weekend, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, announced the appointment of Gladys Carrion as the new commissioner at the Administration for Children’s Services. The agency during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure faced criticism from childcare advocates and DC 1707, the union that represents childcare workers in the city, for privatizing the mostly publicly funded early childhood education sector.

Four panelists kicked off the night explaining how coalitions of unions and parents in the community can elevate the discourse in the public policy arena to expand access to free public education for all children under age five. They also cited real world examples of how unions and parent and community coalitions worked together to expand and prevent cuts to early childhood programs.

President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address earlier this year called for investing $75 billion over 10 years in high-quality pre-K programs. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research’s State Preschool Yearbook 2012's report (the most recent available), total state funding for pre-K programs decreased by more than $548 million across the 40 states that offer pre-K from the previous year and state pre-K funding per child decreased below $4,000 for the first time since NIEER began tracking state pre-K in 2002.

With one-tenth the population of the United States, it seems Canada is doing some things better with providing and funding childcare than its southern neighbor.

According to Martha Friendly, executive director at Child Care Canada’s research unit, Canada doesn’t have a national childcare program; the national government almost voted for one in 2004 but was cancelled by the election of the Stephen Harper government. But the country does distribute funds annually to every family with a child under the age of six.

“Right now we have quite limited federal funding for child care, but there’s one big fund that goes directly to every parent, it’s about $2.5 billion per year. It goes in the form of a check and comes in the mail every month and the parents can use it for anything they want,” said Friendly.

Simon Black is a researcher at York University in Toronto. He noted how Rob Ford, the crack-smoking and alcoholic Toronto Mayor, hired the global auditing firm KPMG to look for cost savings in publicly financed childcare. The mayor ultimately decided to unload the city’s childcare centers to the private sector, resulting in a strong pushback from a Toronto-based coalition to stop the privatization. 

“The movement against the cuts was successful in convincing the City Council to vote against the mayor’s budget and 57 centers were saved from privatization,” said Black.

1199SEIU is one of the city’s biggest private sector unions, representing more than 200,000 thousand health care workers in New York. Its sheer size and multiple collective bargaining agreements with numerous employers in the health care sector allows it to offer childcare directly to its members.

Ms. King of 1199SEIU noted the union receives about $21 million annually from employers. The only other union that is fortunate to offer its members this important benefit is the Transport Workers Union, she said. King hopes that with the election of Bill de Blasio as the next mayor of New York, who wants to increase taxes by 0.5 percent on New Yorkers earning $500,000 or more annually to fund universal pre-K, other unions will be able to do it.

“We can make this change. I’m very optimistic, but we can’t make it unless the unions are demanding it,” King said. 

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