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In 2002, a group of us from Schenectady approached CSEA to ask for help. For years, family and group family providers worked individually and in groups to address challenges we faced; insurance, funding for subsidies and timely, accurate DSS payments, and the OCFS website.

As an association, we knew the work we did made a difference. We also knew that with more “umph”, we’d get more done. We began to think that maybe it was time to form a union for family child care providers. CSEA knew about organizing for power. We knew about family child care. We were hopeful that partnering with CSEA to build a union specially designed for family child care providers would get us further in our work to get the rights, recognition and respect we deserve.

In 2003 we launched the Voice of Organized Independent Childcare Educators (VOICE) under the umbrella of CSEA. We took our campaign to get rid of the “Scarlet Letter” statewide.

Our VOICE Leadership Summit of 2005 kicked off our 18 month “3 Rs” campaign focusing on RIGHTS, RECOGNITION, and RESPECT. We talked to thousands of providers in their homes and at local meetings, laying the foundation for our union. In every county, we discovered we faced common challenges: contradictory regulations that didn’t always make sense; inconsistent enforcement of regulations and rules; burdensome paperwork; inadequate, inaccurate and untimely DSS reimbursements; and a need for better access to quality, affordable training and professional development.

Before we could sit down to negotiate with OCFS and the Governor, we had to pass a law to gain the right for family child care providers
to collective bargaining as a union. In 2006, CSEA/VOICE and the United Federation of Teachers introduced legislation giving child care providers the right to form a union and collective bargaining with NY State and OCFS. The Senate and Assembly passed it. Governor Pataki vetoed the bill.

This was a minor setback. On May 11, 2007, Governor Elliot Spitzer issued an Executive Order granting child care providers the right to form a union and collective bargaining – a historic day for CSEA/VOICE  and providers across the state.

While we were working to gain collective bargaining rights and negotiate our first contract, we launched other successful campaigns:

  • A statewide petition campaign to get the Medication Administration Training deadline extended.
  • Passage of the addendum to Social Service Law 390 prohibiting the classification of family/group family homes as commercial enterprises subject to much higher commercial tax rates.
  • Market rate increases in Erie County where less than the market rate was being paid.
  • Restoration of subsidy funds after they were cut in Erie County.
  • Stopped legislation that would have allowed local governments to impose zoning and other regulations contrary to Social Service Law 390.

Right on time, exactly 18 months after adopting the “3 Rs” campaign plan, CSEA/VOICE was recognized as the union for family and group family providers in New York (outside NYC). In surveys, house calls, and at regional meetings attended by hundreds of providers across the state, family and group family child care providers identified the challenges most important to tackle first. Our negotiating team used this information to develop our contract proposals. On February 9, 2008, over 20 of us sat down with the Office of Children and Family Services to begin negotiating our first contract. Following several meetings with OCFS, the Governor’s Office, and the Department of Health, we negotiated a tentative agreement that our members voted to ratify on February 8, 2010.

Do you remember the red “YES” that made every violation posted on the website appear serious whether it was or not? It is gone now. Just one of many improvements we achieved in our first agreement. Our agreement also includes:

  • Holding the 75th percentile reimbursement rate.
  • A significant upgrade to subsidy payment systems across the state.
  • Program grants.
  • Seed money to launch a professional development fund.
  • Family Health Plus eligibility expansion.
  • The right to union assistance with inspections and payments.
  • Guiding Principles—essentially a Provider Bill of Rights.
  • On-going regulation and insurance workgroups.
  • OCFS website changes.
  • Adult-child ratio changes and extended licensing renewal period.

In addition to contract negotiations, we work to raise the awareness of our local, state and federal lawmakers about the value of the work we do and the challenges we face. We engaged in:

  • Federal initiatives to expand and secure funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant and to improve the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
  • State and county initiatives to secure dollars dedicated to funding child care.

This is the first of many chapters in our VOICE story. As we build our membership, we secure what we’ve accomplished and build power to reach the vision we hold for family child care, children, families and our communities across New York.