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Why Do Unions Want To Run Child Care Teacher Training In Seattle?

SEIU Local 925 and American Federation of Teachers are sponsoring Proposition 1A, one of two competing preschool ballot measures

Seattle voters will have to choose between two ballot measures that both aim to help improve education for preschoolers, but in different ways.

The city’s plan, Proposition 1B, would set up a pilot program of subsidized preschool using a property tax levy.

The competing measure, Proposition 1A, is sponsored by two unions, Service Employees International Union Local 925 and American Federation of Teachers, a national teachers’ union affiliated with AFL-CIO.

Prop. 1A calls for a quicker path to a minimum wage of $15 an hour for child care teachers and would set a city policy that states no family should have to spend more than 10 percent of the household income on child care.

One other provision that’s drawn less attention is a plan to set up a system of training in which the unions would play a bigger role. 

Training Classes

Already, classes take place around Seattle to help day care workers meet the state’s requirements of 30 hours of basic training and 10 hours of continuing education annually to be licensed. Child Care workers learn everything from child development to safety practices.

On a recent Saturday morning, about a dozen child care teachers gathered for a training class run by the Seattle-based nonprofit Child Care Resources.

Instructor Darlene Logan, an occupational therapist, gave the child care workers a hands-on task. She had them put on heavy leather gloves and try to use a spoon to scoop a chocolate chip out of a jar to mimic what it feels like to be a kid suffering from hypotonia, or low muscle tone.

The teachers took turns trying to scoop out a chocolate chip, only to discover it’s not easy, and it’s probably not easy for kids with that condition to try to use a pencil, either.

“Even picking up the spoon was almost impossible,” one woman said.

Afterward, several women said they found the class useful. 

Unions' Proposal

But SEIU 925 and AFT say it’s often hard for child care workers to find the classes they need. They’re hard to get to or are not offered at convenient times. Laura Chandler, who’s on the board of SEIU 925, is a preschool teacher who runs her own training classes.

“I actually have had people come to a class that I’ve done [and found] it was totally irrelevant to their needs. They’re school-age teachers who came to something on science with preschoolers, but they absolutely just had to have their hours. That’s wrong,” Chandler said. “There should be enough things offered for every age group so providers get exactly what they need that help improve their quality. Not just going through the motions to fill this out.”

Prop. 1A would set up a new professional development institute run jointly by the city of Seattle and a union or coalition of unions, presumably SEIU and AFT.

It would survey teachers to find out what they need and help connect them to those classes. Chandler says it wouldn’t replace the current system of private trainers like Child Care Resources; it would just better coordinate those classes to help teachers find what they need.

She says if child care workers get the right training, they’ll have the tools to handle tough situations and won’t burn out as fast.

“All this is about stabilizing our workforce,” Chandler said. “That the children are suffering because the turnover is just horrific. You know, kids can come to school and somebody they love is saying goodbye and is gone in a week.”

But there are a number of critics of Prop. 1A, including former Democratic state Sen. Ken Jacobsen, who often butted heads with the SEIU when he was in the legislature.

Jacobsen says this is another example of the union using a ballot measure with no funding attached to advance its aims. SEIU Healthcare 775NW, for example, ran two successful ballot measures that obligated the state to spend more on expanded training for home health care workers. Neither of them specified where the money would come from.

Unfunded Initiatives

“SEIU has figured out a way to really exploit this very effectively,” Jacobsen said. “And most people make their judgment off 40 words and off the ads.”

Jacobsen says Prop. 1A is a way for unions like SEIU and AFT to expand their ranks and their influence. Right now, the unions say they represent about a third of the city’s 4,500 child care workers.

“They want to get the – they’ll get the pay raise, they’ll get the members in, they’ll all join in and then they’ll make money off the training program,” Jacobsen said.

The sponsors of Prop. 1A say many initiatives go to voters without a funding source specified.

And they say this measure would cost about $3 million a year — money that they say could come out of the city’s Families and Education Levy. But city officials say to do that they’d have to cut elsewhere because that money’s already allocated.

'Low-Budget Fix'

Chandler says the training institute doesn’t need a lot, just a couple of staff members to better coordinate the classes.

“In child care, we’re used to low-budget fixes and that’s what we’re thinking. This is a pretty low-budget thing,” she said. “It’s just getting some people who talk to each other and having a good mailing list, a good email list. It’s as simple as that.”

Chandler says this isn’t about convincing a whole bunch more teachers to unionize. The aim of the measure is to improve child care with better paid and better trained teachers.

The sponsors describe it as modest, but it’s obviously important to the unions. They’re putting a lot of cash into the campaign. They’ve contributed more than $1.2 million, almost $400,000 more than the competing measure has raised. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.