AUGUSTA (AP) – The Legislature moved closer Monday toward recognizing a newly formed union representing nearly 2,200 people in Maine who care for children in their homes.

Without debate, the House voted 73-65 in favor of a bill that acknowledges the family child care providers’ union and authorizes negotiations beginning July 1, 2009. Earlier in the day, the Senate voted 20-15 in favor of the bill, which faced a final round of votes.

The measure represents a crucial step toward commencing collective bargaining between the state and state-licensed child-care businesses, which provide care for 17,000 children, mainly over training, rules and regulations.

“It gives them the ability to have some kind of a voice in the legislative process, particularly around the rule-making process,” said Mary Anne Turowski, legislative and political director for the Maine State Employees Association.

Turowski said the bill was a priority for the union this session.

Last October, providers voted 790-125 in favor of being represented by the MSEA, part of Service Employees International Union. But before any kind of negotiations can begin, the Legislature has to enact a statute which acknowledges the union’s existence.

The state provides full or partial compensation to all of the child care providers, most of them private, home-based businesses.

Besides gaining more influence in the regulatory process, the providers are expected to also get access to health insurance through SEIU, said Turowski.

As of last fall, 10 states had given family child-care professionals the right to form unions. In March, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed an SEIU-backed bill to grant collective bargaining rights to subsidized child-care providers in that state.

California’s 90,000 providers serve 700,000 families at a public cost of more than $3 billion. In his veto message, Schwarzenegger cited the cost.

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