LANSING, Mich. — They are 40,000 strong and they feed, clean, and teach Michigan’s young, in their most formative pre-school years. And for doing such an important job, what do they earn? “In Wayne County, we earn $1.66 an hour for each child,” said Daisy Jackson, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees organizer from Detroit.
In addition, Jackson said, the books, food and toys these home-based child care providers supply each day are “on your own dime.” Not to mention the wear and tear on their home and furnishings.
The child care providers are paid by the state of Michigan. In 2006, under the joint leadership of the United Auto Workers and AFSCME, the 40,000 home-based providers were organized into a new union: Child Care Providers Together of Michigan (CCPTM). They won wage increases of 8 percent for each of three years, but due to the state budget crisis, the state Legislature hasn’t allocated the funds to pay for the raises that were negotiated and agreed to.
To win justice, providers from throughout the state descended on the state Capitol here April 21. They visited every member of the state Senate and House and demanded what was rightfully theirs.
Herbert Sanders, the union’s AFSCME director, said, “There was a promise made and that promise hasn’t been kept. That’s why we are here today.” He argued that monies from the federal stimulus package, targeted for child care, are sufficient to fund the contract.
Grant Grace, the UAW coordinator for the union, told the child care providers gathered here, “For too long the state has not respected what you do. We keep our word, we raise the next generation,now we want the state to keep their word.”
Providers Becky Hardesty and Lu Hilden, from Flint and Owosso, respectively, stated their case effectively with each official they visited.
“We do a very important job — taking care of children,” said Hardesty. “We are so far below poverty level — the [state budget] cut cannot come from us. We have providers losing homes, phones and cars.”
Hilden told the lawmakers that some children don’t thrive with institutional day care and really need the attention and atmosphere a home setting provides. But when home care providers earn so little, she said, it is getting to the point where some won’t take state-funded children. “Children are treated special in home-based care and that option is being threatened,” she said. “Strong providers make strong children — and less children ending up in foster care and the penal system.”
Northwest Detroit resident Violet Meadows is one of those strong providers. She currently takes care of five children but is licensed to care for up to eight. She has provided for children since 1994. “Word of mouth” helped to advertise her child care. Meadows said the children begin to get dropped off at her house at 8 a.m. and may be picked up 10 or 12 hours later. She joined the union because she had a brother and nephew, employed in the auto industry, who knew that being in a union was “good,” she said.
Meadows is a person any parent would want taking care of their children. She takes the children on field trips and to restaurants to teach them how to behave in public and to eat properly. She tells them they can be anything they want in life: doctors, nurses, teachers and lawyers. She helps them plant a garden in her backyard.
When Katrina devastated New Orleans, she took the kids to a big box store and gave them $5 each to buy items for a care package.
Jonathan Fung, from Interfaith Worker Justice, traveled on the bus from Detroit. He summarized the incredible contradiction child care providers find themselves in. They “are some of the most unappreciated workers in Michigan,” he said. “What is more important than caring for our children?”
jrummel @ pww.org