There’s a movement afoot in my home state of Vermont to allow preschool and daycare providers to unionize. Howard Dean claims that the proposed bill “makes for common sense public policy“. According to an article on the proposal, “supporters say the effort will allow them to negotiate better pay and benefits and, at the same time, have a greater say in establishing workforce standards and programs to boost professional development.”

I don’t know enough about this to be justified in having a strong opinion. That said, the idea of having a union of independent childcare providers seems weird to me. The point of unions is to give workers more bargaining power so that gains from firms’ profits are split more fairly. Without unions, the thinking goes, individual workers are unable to get a fair cut of the surplus that corporations in capitalist economies produce.  But in the case of the proposed childcare providers union, as I understand it, it would be a bunch of independent business owners banding together.  This sounds like a monopoly. According to the article I quoted above, “The childcare educators hope to increase pay and benefits for their workforce and have a greater say in rules and regulations that are enacted to govern their profession.”

Unions resemble monopolies in the sense that they allow independent economic actors to band together and set prices for their services above what they would be otherwise. If there’s a good story about bargaining power disparities, then this might make sense, but I don’t see how that’s the case for childcare providers. It’s hard to read the previous quote without taking it to mean that they hope to set artificially high prices for their services and set up barriers to entry to stifle competition.

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