The Importance of Unionization Benefits for the Child Care System in California

Child care providers are an essential component of the California economy. Working parents without care for their children miss out on work and on the pay needed to keep their families thriving and keep our economic engine humming.

Many working parents who work long hours outside of the regular business day rely on family child care providers, small family-run businesses, to care for their children when they work the night shift or must be at work at 5 a.m. to open the store. Yet last year alone, the number of licensed family child care providers in California decreased by 14 percent, in part due to the inefficient state reimbursement system that has had some providers waiting months to get paid by the state for the subsidized care they provide for low-income children. A lack of timely reimbursements is just but one problem plaguing family child care workers—little access to training and uneven quality standards also frustrate those providing care.

Gov. Brown could take a critical step toward improving the provision of child care in California by signing Assembly Bill 101. A.B. 101 gives family child care providers a voice in determining the rules and regulations that govern their work. The bill would allow these child care providers to form a union in order to participate in negotiations with the state about the child care industry—including how and when they are reimbursed for subsidized child care.

California is one of only two states that rely on intermediaries to assess family needs and pay for child care services for qualifying families. There are currently more than 100 local agencies processing claims in California, operating under state guidelines and regulations that are often vague and outdated. Some providers have had their payments delayed for upward of five months, have had timesheets rejected for using the wrong ink color, and have been illegally terminated for speaking up about program mismanagement or attempting to organize with their fellow workers.

Gov. Brown should sign A.B. 101, not just because it will help child care providers but also because it will have a positive impact on California’s struggling economy.

Investing in social-sector jobs such as child care makes sense, particularly in tough economic times like these. Not only does it generate the most jobs per dollar invested but it also creates jobs for the most vulnerable of the unemployed. Researchers at UC Berkeley estimate that child care creates about 200,000 direct and indirect jobs right now in California, which is no small potatoes when you’re talking about a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. This same study also estimates that working parents who rely on child care in California have more than one-quarter of $1 billion of purchasing power each year based on their annual salaries.

The economic benefits of taking child care seriously extend beyond the immediate. Early Care and Education, or ECE, is associated with many economically positive outcomes for both individuals and the state. ECE is associated with lower rates of students needing remedial and/or special education once they reach public schools, lower rates of teen pregnancy, and lower rates of incarceration in adulthood. Making it easier for child care workers to provide ECE thus not only directly helps the children and parents involved but also has long-term positive economic outcomes for the state.

Providing care for children is among the most important work a person can do. A.B. 101 would allow providers, those who know the industry the best because they experience it every day, a necessary voice to help make the system more efficient and run more smoothly. If it is passed, everybody will win—parents, children, child care workers, and the state.

Sarah Jane Glynn is a Policy Analyst and Ann O’Leary is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.