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Give a voice to providers. Invite them to the table.

The following story was inspired by the testimony SEIU Local 99 President Conrado Guerrero gave at the state Assembly’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education tour of Cerritos College’s Child Development Center.

Good morning. My name is Conrado Guerrero and I’m the President of SEIU Local 99—Education Workers United. I’m also a Building Engineer at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Before becoming the President of our union, I was a Union Steward, helping other members use their union voice to improve our workplaces and the services we provide to support student learning.

I’m proud to have with me today several of our union members who operate daycare centers out of their homes. Since forming their union with SEIU Local 99 several years ago, these members—mostly women of color—have brought a lot of energy to our union. Watching their commitment to lifting up their industry and their unity in the face of unprecedented state budget cuts has inspired me and many other longtime union members.

In their homes, children learn to share, use their words, sit quietly in a circle, and they can play independently. They are polite, can stand in line, and are creative. They have high vocabularies and many will be bilingual! Study after study shoes that quality early learning like this increases success in school, lowers the need for special education services, decreases the need for repeated grades, decreases truancy, increases the likelihood of attending college and buying a house, lowers the incarceration rate, increases earnings and family stability, and decreases welfare dependency, crime, and teen pregnancy.

They are strong advocates for children and families and have successfully fought for restored funding to California’s child care system. They have established an innovative new apprenticeship program that allows them access to college courses to move up in their careers. And they fill other training gaps in the state’s child care system, offering numerous workshops at our union hall, including how to identify special needs in early childhood, how to detect signs of child abuse, and how to stay safe in this surprising dangerous field, where back injuries are too frequent and exposure to stresses and infectious diseases is high.

And while the work they do is vital to our education system and our economy, these women have a unique challenge. Unlike all the other members of SEIU Local 99, these ladies don’t have the right to collectively bargain with the state to improve their industry and working conditions. Although they know exactly what needs to be fixed in our broken child care system, they are denied a seat at the table when child care policy is made in California. Providers in other states enjoy bargaining rights that have led to important improvements in their state’s child care systems.

After years of speaking out, California’s child care providers have started to take some small—but important!—steps in child care. We won increased investment and updated parent eligibility guidelines that provide greater stability for children and parents.

I’m encouraged that we are moving in the right direction to create a child care system that truly invests in children and supports our Local 99 child care providers as they do this important work making sure children succeed in K-12 education and beyond. We will continue to push decision-makers to take that important step that will truly make a difference in our state’s services to its youngest learners: Give a voice to providers. Invite them to the table.

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