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Originally published November 25, 2013 at 2:45 PM | Page modified November 25, 2013 at 3:14 PM

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Editorial: Mike McGinn’s union bullying of early education providers

Unionizing Seattle day-care workers is not something Mayor Mike McGinn should force in the remaining weeks of his term.

Seattle Times Editorial

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SEATTLE child-care providers should consider suing Mayor Mike McGinn to undo a heavy-handed directive forcing them to negotiate with unions or lose city funds.

Bob Gilbertson, president and chief executive of the YMCA of Greater Seattle, said providers are unified in opposition to the outgoing mayor’s order. The executive might run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.

“We’re weighing a lawsuit,” Gilbertson said. “None of us are against unions but we want to balance what’s right for employees with what’s right for kids and families.”

The balance Gilbertson alludes to is largely about arithmetic. Paying for increased wages and other workplace improvements the Service Employees International Union Local 925 and the American Federation of Teachers Washington would immediately demand might require raising fees on middle-income families. Low-income families have their child care subsidized by the City of Seattle or the state.

SEIU and the AFT may see fertile ground in early learning for growing their ranks, but their timing is terrible. Budgets for day care and preschools are thin compared with money in the K-12 system. Universal preschool replete with highly qualified, well-compensated teachers will take time.

But McGinn has set a Dec. 1 deadline for providers to begin talks with the two unions. That is an unnecessarily tight deadline and it could force some providers to move outside of Seattle, or cause others to accommodate the directive by raising fees, making their services less accessible to needy families.

The City Council should look for a way to undo the directive. If providers sue, City Attorney Pete Holmes would be forced to defend the rule. The City Council also should waive attorney-client privilege and share the advice that Holmes provided at its request on this issue with the public. The best solution is to resolve this issue before it lands in a courtroom.

Small providers could run up hefty tabs for labor expertise as they negotiate with unions.

The mayor’s order even covers providers that do not receive city funds, but use public buildings in Seattle — for example, the before- and after-school programs operating in public schools.

Resolving persistent academic and opportunity gaps starts with ensuring very young children have access to high-quality day care, preschool and enrichment programs that offer art, music and early literacy. The mayor’s actions threaten momentum on universal preschool for Seattle’s 3- and 4-year-olds.

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