One thing that the pandemic has shown us is that child care is essential, valuable, and skilled labor. But childcare providers have had to fight for basic labor protections and a decent wage. According to Child Care Providers United, the newly recognized union of childcare providers in California, “the median income for these providers is $12 an hour, but some licensed providers make as little as $5 an hour per child. Fifty-eight percent rely on government assistance programs to support their families.” Providers are overwhelmingly women of color and immigrants, and the state has failed to provide the support necessary to make childcare a living wage job. 

Earlier this year, childcare providers and early childhood educators in California made history when they voted to form Child Care Providers United, a new union that will represent roughly 45,000 workers across the state. Their victory was the result of a 17-year effort led by three locals — AFSCME-United Domestic Workers 3930 and SEIU Locals 99 and 521 — with the support of community organizations. As Jovanna Hernandez, one of the organizers on the campaign, recounted, “This triumph was paved by a broad ecology of organizations, from Parent Voices to Local 1000 parent union workers showing up at the capital for our events.”

How did they do it? By organizing one provider at a time to build a powerful movement of workers who, despite not sharing a workspace or even an employer, came to see themselves as part of a community with shared challenges and aspirations. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed, Valeska Sanchez, an organizer with SEIU 521, talks with The Forge about the work that it took to build to a 97 percent majority.

Read about the other interviews and articles in the series here


Tell me about your background and how you ended up on this campaign.

I came to this country when I was four years old, and we struggled a lot. My mother was involved in the union, and we went to Sacramento to lobby for our rights to become documented. I guess that's where my passion started. I started learning at a very young age that I had a voice, that changes were able to be made if everybody would stand up for them. 

I was brought into home childcare. It is a hard job. They get up at three, four in the morning to see the child because a lot of [the parents] go to the field. Or [they] are nurses that go to an early shift, and they have to drop off their child and then they have to pick them up very late. So the child is there for breakfast, for lunch, snacks. The provider is like the personal teacher. They go to school, they have unit classes, they have to do trainings. 

I started seeing their struggle and I was like, oh my God, this is so unfair. And not only that, agencies not paying them enough money to take care of those [kids]. I've been working on the campaign for more than two years, but it took them more than 17 years to win this. And, finally, they won.


How were you able to sustain organizing over such a long period of time? What challenges did this present? How did you maintain your own sense of possibility?

I found the leaders [who were] very supportive. They're able to go that extra mile. I just think it was communication with all the members: Are you willing to continue to get paid what they think you should get paid when you're doing 12, 16 hours a day? At the end of it, it does not even up to $2 per hour. Just seeing their struggle, I think that's what makes me get up every day and say, they need me. They need to know what they could do. They need to know that they're not alone. I told them, Cesar Chavez was not able to do this on his own. Martin Luther King did not do it alone. He did it with students, with community. I always give them those examples because it's the movement that makes a difference. By myself, I cannot do anything. 


The childcare providers you were organizing work out of their homes rather than in a shared space, like a classroom, office, or factory. Did they already have ways of forming community with each other or did you work to build it?

I had to build it. I had to go visit them home by home. Tell them the vision we have for them. Explain to them that they have a voice. And I got several doors slammed in my face, but that never discouraged me.

My leaders helped me out. I'm blessed with all of them. I have between 14 and 18 leaders. I also have other providers on Facebook. So if they need to take out a message or we need to do an action, they start telling me, “Val, I'm going to do a video talking about the action.” I'm like, perfect, go ahead. And they do videos, they do social media. One hour later, more than 500 [providers] view them.  


Has your committee been together for a long time or was it challenging to get people to step up before the law passed allowing you to collectively bargain? 

At the beginning, it was hard, but once they saw that politicians were listening to them, they were more empowered, they started stepping up. It was beautiful because when they [went] to Sacramento [for lobby days], they could see other providers from other areas and they could realize, I'm not the only one struggling. And it doesn't matter where they're at, we're doing the same job. After those lobby visits and after the governor signed the bill, more providers stepped up to be leaders.


You ended up with 97 percent of your members voting yes. Do you remember what percentage of providers you had on cards when you started organizing on this campaign? Tell us about the work it took to build to a 97 percent victory. 

I'm totally blessed with all of [of my leaders] because they were on point, they were calling providers. They were like, look, you need to send a ballot. I don't care what you're doing, but you need to send it. If you don't have time to go drop it off, I'm going to go pick it up. 


Was it challenging to have the vote by mail? 

The challenge was COVID-19. It was hard because we had long hours calling people. Like, you need to vote, you got your ballot? Yes. Did you vote? Yes. We started ahead of time with videos telling other providers, with the ballot, make sure that you do the following instructions. 

But, at the end, it was amazing. Ninety-seven percent. When my providers knew, they cried, they were screaming. It was unbelievable. They were like, oh my goodness, I can't believe we finally won. I can't believe all those hours of phone banking made the difference. Seeing them cry, it was just, I think my work was made.


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