Written by Pam Ladds
Thirty years ago I watched a friend, a working mother, pay the kid who cut her hedge more than she paid the woman who took care of her 2 children. This woman, a registered child care provider working in her own home, spent at least 8 hours a day in the role of Surrogate Parent, totally responsible for the lives of the 4 children in her care, their emotional and physical well-being, their nutrition and their early education. For that she got paid just over minimum wage. Of course she had no access to health care for herself and her own children were subsidized by the State – in reality all of us. How we value work, women and children was blatantly obvious. We don’t!
It would be wonderful to say how much things have changed. To be able to show that the Child Care Workers are now paid living wages, have access to benefits such as health insurance and paid vacation time. However, this is not reality – very little has changed. Women’s work is still systemically devalued, and what is seen as “traditional” work, all aspects of Care Giving, receives very little respect. Child Care providers, particularly in low income areas are living in poverty themselves. The essential service that they provide – in effect they sustain the work force, and subsidize the lives of the rest of us, frequently does not provide a living wage.
An attempt to remedy this is a piece of legislation currently vending its way through the Vermont State Building. The Early Educators Bill (S.52) co-sponsored by several Senators and Representatives including NEK’s Robert Starr is designed to allow Child Care providers to organize, to have some input into their own working conditions and ultimately into the quality of care given to children – the future of the rest of us. Quality child care is a no-brainer!
It is the beginning of the road out of the poverty trap. The importance of early stimulation, quality nutrition and warm caring people is well documented. Kids who spend their days without stimulation, parked in front of the tv, and fed on junk do not do as well as children raised in homes with knowledgeable, competent, trained Care Givers.
Care Givers want to be able to organize, to bargain collectively and in doing so gain respect for their career path. Being able to earn an adequate living without resorting to Food Stamps and Emergency Room Health Care for themselves would also be helpful!
This Bill allows for choice. Child Care Workers who do not wish to unionize do not have to. The majority of Child Care Providers however, work in isolation and this formal route will allow them to meet, learn from each other and provide better care for the children in their charge. It is important to contact local legislators to show support for this Bill and to ensure the future of this profession.
It is interesting that the Child Care Providers have chosen to go the tortuously slow, “polite” pathway of asking permission to organize and improve conditions for themselves and their charges.
It is equally interesting that the State of VT demands “permission” to organize. Child Care Providers could shut down the work-force in a week if they had chosen a different path. But they elected to continue to be responsible for their charges, provide quality care, continue to struggle themselves in order to “do this right”!
They deserve our support! Please contact your legislators to support Bill S.52. For further information check out their website: