Baby Care Suppliers in Washington Weigh a Strike as They Wrestle to Keep Afloat Amid Pandemic | Neighborhood
Childcare workers in the Washington family are considering a strike. Union participants say they are finished in the face of mounting pressure from the pandemic.
It would be the first nationwide strike in history among childcare workers, union leaders say.
The state says there is help along the way and providers have no legal right to strike.
Even before the pandemic, Washington’s childcare sector was struggling. The cost of care was too high for most families and providers were paid wages that often left them in poverty.
According to studies commissioned by the state late last year, the system was only able to support 17% of children under the age of 13 nationwide. Washington had the sixth highest percentage of people living in childcare deserts in the United States, the Center for American Progress reported. This means that the demand for care far outweighs the licensed places available. Much of Yakima County was considered a childcare desert.
The instability of childcare also cost the economy. Government-commissioned research also found that a “broken market” in 2017 cost employers $ 2 billion in employee turnover related to childcare issues. Another $ 3.7 billion was lost to missed opportunities caused by childcare disruptions such as production cuts.
When the pandemic broke out, childcare providers were seen as essential and asked to remain open to support other key workers, such as healthcare or agriculture, by looking after their children. While the pandemic continued, they were touted as essential to restarting the economy.
But many – in central Washington and beyond – are struggling with rising bills, diving income, increased security protocols, and the lack of a medical safety net.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children found that among more than 6,000 nationally surveyed providers in mid-November, more than half said they lost money every day they were open. Another 44% couldn’t say how long they could stay open. Many vendors said they ran into debt by buying supplies with credit cards, dipping in savings to stay afloat, and resorting to layoffs to cut overheads.
According to Child Care Aware, 740 licensed childcare programs in the state were closed and out of service as of Monday. Of these, 37 were in Yakima County. Overall, this reduces child capacity in the state by 31,362, or 14% of total licensed capacity.
Although it’s unclear whether these local closures are permanent or temporary, a March NAEYC survey of 11,500 vendors across the country found that 50% couldn’t survive a closure of more than two weeks without assistance. Another 25% said they didn’t know how long they could temporarily close without assistance in reopening.
Pressure on providers
Both vendors and union officials from Yakima to Puget Sound say that while urged to stay open to support the economy and allow parents to work, they are falling back on bills and risking their safety. Attendance and income are well below normal, and the state stabilization that has helped pay providers for subsidized slots based on enrollment rather than attendance ended months ago.
At the same time, the cost of running programs has increased, along with the need for increased hygiene and safety practices. An autumn subsidy from the state to support buoy providers has yet to be paid out, the last being received in late spring.
Lorena Miranda, a union representative in Yakima who runs a home childcare program, said she was behind on countless bills.
“We need the help. We have a hard time waiting,” she said. “I haven’t paid for my house. I haven’t paid for my car. I still have to pay for my water (bill) and all that.”
She said she only has five children in her care, but all of them were sick last week – meaning they have no income at all.
One provider in Toppenish, Luz Sandoval (48), had two children in their care, usually 12. Another provider had only one child in their care in the past few months, usually five or six.
Local providers stated that they placed signs with advertising openings in their program or via Facebook. But recruiting new families while many are working from home or unemployed is challenging, if not impossible, they say. Many said they feared they would close permanently if they didn’t get financial help quickly.
“People talk about strikes because we don’t know what else to do,” said Miranda. “If we don’t do anything, we won’t get any further.”
Mary Curry, a Tacoma provider and president of the union chapter representing family childcare providers nationwide, repeated Miranda.
“It feels like they’re treating our community as if it’s disposable and not essential. They tell us we are important. They have to treat us as such,” she said. “We’re not trying to get in harmony with the doctors or nurses. We welcome their work. But for them to go to work, we stay open.”
Within the next week, Curry said the SEIU Local 925 family childcare chapter would vote on whether to hold a one-day strike. If agreed, she said this would affect in-home providers; Providers from family members, friends, and neighbors; and small, independent centers. Based on provider data from Child Care Aware of Washington, which works closely with the State Department for Children, Youth and Families, this could be well over 3,000 providers.
In the meantime, Curry said, the union and utilities are urging parents to “link guns” to demand action by the government instead.
One of their major concerns is the medical benefit. In-home providers open their own homes to potential exposure without a safety net when they need medical attention, she said.
It’s a sensitive point between providers and government officials who say medical services are available.
The pandemic posed an additional challenge to an already ailing sector, DCYF officials admit. The agency has already invested millions of dollars to stabilize the sector this year, and additional grant funding is coming this week.
“DCYF is committed to stabilizing the existing childcare infrastructure so we are on the path to economic recovery,” said Debra Johnson, director of communications for DCYF, via email. “DCYF also wants to support access to high quality care for children and families.”
Since March, over $ 200 million has been invested in stabilizing childcare, from grants to incentives for providers of friends, family and neighbors. While those funds have helped, she said a state task force is preparing a report on additional resources needed.
In the meantime, the fall scholarship will be distributed from December 16-18, she said. Providers who did not receive aid in the first round of grants will have priority, but 2,574 spring recipients will receive funding that round, she said. Among them are 1,785 providers of family childcare.
Johnson said the enrollment-based grant, which cost the state approximately $ 88 million between March 16 and September 30, ended due to a lack of funds.
“The state would need additional funding from lawmakers to resume enrollment payment,” she said.
She said that providers who offer subsidized care are already receiving health benefits through their union bargaining agreement. Others can access health benefits through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, Johnson said. And while the state knows the providers are in trouble, the bargaining law prevents the group from canceling.
“Tough decisions have been made during this pandemic. However, we have worked to invest in the childcare industry,” she said. “We understand that the childcare industry is essential to a thriving economy and we are committed to continuing our discussion with SEIU (Local) 925 to find solutions together. Providers can choose to stay open and To offer care as an essential service for. ” our economy and frontline workers during this pandemic. “
Like many local Yakima vendors, curry is not sure that this is possible. A union vote in the coming days will show.
“We will have a nationwide strike vote to see if the providers are ready to go on strike,” she said.
“Childcare workers need a rescue,” Curry said. “We appreciate the government’s support in the field, but we also want the funds to match.”
Reach Janelle Retka at [email protected] or on Twitter: @janelleretka
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