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, Miren Algorri, a rank-and-file organizer with UDW-AFSCME 3930, 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 a little bit about yourself, your background, and what led you to this campaign.

I'm a second-generation provider. I would help my mother in her childcare, and my mom would go to the [union] meetings. I got involved with the union because I saw the injustice that providers were facing. Not so much personally but seeing what my mother went through, the way that she was treated, the way that she was spoken to, really made me want to get involved. Seeing that providers were mistreated because they were immigrants who were not English speakers. My mother didn't drive. She would take public transportation to get to the agencies and drop off a copy of her [childcare] license and even then she was getting paid as a non-licensee. Seeing my mother cry herself to sleep was the first issue that empowered me to become involved and into these uphill battles. 

I mean, being a union, it's still surreal. I still cannot believe it. It's still really like: Did it happen? Pinch me. I'm not asleep? This is not a dream? It might sound corny but it really feels like that. The struggle is over. 

 

What has your role been in the campaign?

Well, I have been involved in the campaign off and on since the very beginning. It's been over 17 years. [When] Governor Newsom signed off on the law so we could become a union, I became what is called a GOTV captain. My job as a GOTV captain was to grow the union, spread the message and just really fuel the passion in our brothers and sisters.

 

What were the biggest challenges that you confronted?

I think one of the challenges has been the pandemic. We were used to visiting providers, hosting meetings, and just making it very personal. We learned to host the Zoom meetings and how to be the co-host and the one sharing the screen. We have a great organizer that has kept us going by supporting us emotionally.

 

This was a 17 year long campaign and the law allowing childcare workers in California to unionize was only recently changed. How did you sustain organizing efforts over such a long period of time? How did you create a community or an environment that maintained people's belief in their ability to win?

We kept our eyes on the prize. It was challenging. Even right now, I'm having these flashbacks, I remember those times when I called my organizer and I was in tears. I'd say, "How are we going to get things done? People do not pick up the phone anymore. They're screening their calls." She would tell me, "Miren, where there is a will, there is a way." What kept us motivated was one another. We really lean on each other. That sisterhood, that brotherhood kept us whole, kept us sane through this. 

The huge victories, on the last stretch, were providers who were providing subsidized services. When we got the news that we were going to get paid for certified hours [regardless of how many children attended], we were in awe, saying, "Hey, we have accomplished A, B, and C without being an official union. Imagine what we can accomplish for these children once we are a union?" 

 

This was an effort by three different locals. What can you tell us about how the unions came together to work together on the campaign? How and what did coordination look like amongst so many different actors?

We see ourselves as CCPU. Sometimes providers would tell me, "Oh, Miren. You're dreaming. We're never going to become a union. It's complicated because we're self-employed and it's complicated because childcare, even in a state-funded pre-school, it's always minimized." I would tell them, "Do you think these locals would be supporting us if they did not believe that we can become a union?" Coming together, getting resources from SEIU 99, SEIU 521, and UDW is what fueled us. We don't see a sister from SEIU99 any different than we see a sister from UDW. As a provider, I can say I'm CCPU, and I thank Local 99, Local 521, and UDW for everything that they've done for us. This became their fight. They fought our war, our battles, and, here we are, victorious.

 

How did you structure your organizing to cover 40,000 workers? How did you approach the campaign to make sure that everyone was going to get the support that they needed to be successful?

Jackie Galliano, our UDW/CCPU organizer, always said: it's one provider at a time. I don't think we woke up one day and said, "Hey, we're going to tackle over 40,000 providers." We have a GroupMe group where you have Farsi speaking providers, you have Somali speakers, you have Spanish speakers from many Latin American countries, Russian speakers, Arabic speakers, and we all communicate through that GroupMe. Google Translate has become one of our best allies on this campaign. It's been a great tool. 

We have accomplished this because we care. We care about the children and we care about each other. We care about each and every provider, licensed or not licensed, and, hey, now we have non-licensed providers onboard to become licensed providers. That's how powerful the union is.

 

Can you tell us what the day-to-day in the GOTV looked like? How did you build to a 97% victory?

One provider at a time. That's how we did it. One provider at a time. The GOTV captains got lists of providers that we needed to approach. My list was the anti-union providers. I was given that list and a list of non-licensed providers, which was quite challenging because I'm a licensed provider. I don't really know their specific struggles. The key to getting those non-licensed to vote yes was talking to them about the benefits of becoming a licensed provider and the potential gains once we can negotiate a contract.

It really is a campaign that was sustained by that sisterhood and that trust that has been built amongst providers and parents. I'm proud to say that every provider across the state who has heard about the union, they have delivered a message to at least one other provider [about the union]. They may not be official GOTV captains but just the fact that they took the time to talk about the union and the importance of voting yes when those ballots arrived, that makes them unofficial GOTV captains.

It takes one provider at a time. This was a huge victory because we have shown the community that we care about the community. This was not a personal gain. This was not a selfish campaign. This was a campaign of love and care for the community. 

 

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