Mostly False
"Six years after unionization, 20,000 fewer children in Illinois were being served by the Child Care and Development Fund program."

Jennifer Parrish on Thursday, September 5th, 2013 in a newspaper commentary

Child-care activist Jennifer Parrish says number of children in subsidized child care fell by 20,000 in Illinois after labor union began representing providers

Whether independent home-based child-care providers in Rhode Island should join a labor union is a hot-button issue in Rhode Island right now.

In the last General Assembly session, legislators passed a bill -- signed into law by Governor Chafee -- that requires the state to bargain collectively with the nearly 600 providers if they opt to have a union. The providers are scheduled to vote Oct. 26-30 whether to be represented by Service Employees International Union 1199.

The union-organizing campaign prompted Jennifer B. Parrish, a child-care provider in Minnesota, to write an essay published Sept. 5, 2013, by The Providence Journal in which she expressed her opposition to union representation of home-based child-care providers.

One of Parrish’s points caught our eye: "Six years after unionization, 20,000 fewer children in Illinois were being served by the Child Care and Development Fund program."

Contacted by PolitiFact Rhode Island, Parrish said union involvement prompted child-care providers to leave Illinois’ federal- and state-financed child-care program, so fewer children were served. The providers’ resistance to paying up to $900 in annual union dues was a significant factor, Parrish contended.

Parrish said dozens of licensed child-care providers in Illinois have told her that they shunned union affiliation and left the subsidized program.

We had two questions: Were 20,000 fewer children being served and, if so, was the decrease related to unionization?

First, a little background. Conservative and anti-union groups have vigorously opposed efforts in several states to unionize home-based child-care workers. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear a challenge to the Illinois unionization law. A federal judge halted a unionization campaign in Minnesota, pending the Supreme Court challenge.

In Rhode Island, unionization opponents tried unsuccessfully to delay a union vote.

To check Parrish’s claim, we first went where she went, to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families, which publishes state-by-state data regarding the Child Care and Development Program.

We were interested in the six-year period that Parrish cited, from Oct. 1, 2005, (Illinois workers became unionized in 2006) through Sept. 30, 2011.

In the 2006 federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2005, a monthly average of 82,200 children were served in Illinois by the federally subsidized program. By 2011, the figure had dropped to an estimated 63,000, a decrease of 19,200, or nearly 24 percent -- very close to Parrish’s 20,000 number.

But there’s a couple of important caveats. First, the federal program counts children in all kinds of child care, not just home-based care, the focus of Parrish’s commentary.

When you focus only on home-based care, the number of children served fell from 36,168 in 2006 to an estimated 27,090 in 2011. That’s a decrease of 9,078 -- a 25-percent drop. That’s a substantial decrease but it’s less than half of the number Parrish cited.

And the second caveat: In addition to the unionization effort, several factors could have contributed to the drop, including changes in the rules regarding who is eligible for a subsidy.

Tellingly, the number of all child-care providers in that period fell about 11 percent, while the drop in unionized home-based providers was only 3 percent.

Parrish acknowledged in an interview that other factors were at play but insisted that providers’ reluctance to be union-affiliated was a significant factor.

Because of the government shutdown, we couldn’t get any federal officials to discuss the figures. And neither the governor’s office nor the Illinois Department of Human Services, which oversees the child-care subsidy program, responded to our questions.

Two Illinois child-care advocacy groups confirmed there were decreases in the numbers of children served, but they disputed Parrish on the reasons for the decreases.

Larry Joseph, director of the fiscal policy center of Voices for Illinois Children, and Sessy Nyman, vice president of policy and strategic partnerships for Illinois Action for Children, both attributed the decreases to the economy, to a tightening of state qualifications for home-based providers, to a tightening of eligibility requirements for children, and to an increase in the co-payments for children’s parents.

Joseph said he knew of no evidence linking the decrease to unionization of providers.

Said Nyman: "We do lose families in a bad economy." Parents lose their jobs or work fewer hours and do not need a child-care subsidy because they are home to mind their children, she said.  

She called the union link "an assumption" based on political ideology.

(Voices for Illinois Children and Illinois Action for Children said they count the SEIU, which represents Illinois child-care providers and wants to represent Rhode Island child-care providers, as an ally.)

Our ruling

Child-care proprietor Jennifer B. Parrish said 20,000 fewer children, were served in an Illinois child-care program subsidized by the federal government, after a labor union began representing child-care providers. That was very close to the decrease in the number of children served by all child-care programs.

But we found that the decrease in the number of children in home-based care -- what Parrish was talking about -- was actually about 9,100.

Parrish offered only anecdotal evidence that the drop was related to unionization and two Illinois advocacy groups said it was more likely caused by other factors, such as the economic downturn and tightening of state qualifications for providers and eligibility requirements for children.

Because the statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, the judges rate it Mostly False.