We have wiped ten thousand bottoms, we have dried ten thousand tears.
We have served ten thousand crackers, we have calmed ten thousand fears.
We don't want to be impoverished for the next ten thousand years.
We deserve a worthy wage.

On a rainy Thursday in April 1991, a crowd of 1,800 daycare workers and childcare advocates donned boots and umbrellas and took to the streets of Seattle to demand better pay for the city's daycare workers. Bosses—themselves poorly paid center directors—organized with workers to shut down seventy-five daycare centers for all or part of the day. Parents and children joined the “parade,” as did the city's mayor, Norman Rice.1 Seattle's 1991 “Worthy Wages Day” brought national attention to the issue of childcare's “hidden subsidy” and sparked a vibrant campaign that continued throughout the 1990s and into the twenty-first century.2

While Seattle became the epicenter of the movement, Worthy Wage chapters emerged in over thirty states, Canada, and Washington, DC (fig. 1).3 The Worthy Wage movement brought to a boil a childcare labor crisis that had been simmering for decades. As maternal labor force participation grew dramatically in the second half of the twentieth century, increasing from approximately 20 percent of married women with children in the workforce in 1950 to approximately 70 percent in 1995, a low-wage childcare workforce expanded rapidly as well.4

Seattle produced the most active childcare labor movement in the United States, but it also typified the themes and dynamics of childcare employee activism in many other cities at the turn of the twenty-first century. The movements in Seattle showcase the challenges of improving the social and economic value of childcare work, particularly in the contexts of retrenchment and privatization.

The childcare labor movement in Seattle proceeded through three stages: an advocacy stage, a union stage focused on center-based workers, and a union stage focused on home-based providers. During the first stage, grassroots Worthy Wage activists built a cooperative public education campaign. Daycare center directors and workers collaborated to inform the public of undercompensation in childcare with the goal of pressuring policymakers to improve childcare funding. In 1998, the Worthy Wage Task Force affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 925 to form the Child Care Union Project, an effort focused on organizing center-based workers. Wishing to respect workers’ desire to maintain cooperative relationships with directors, and acknowledging that most centers had limited room in their budgets to increase wages, SEIU bet that they could improve wages by exerting their power in Washington State to expand state funding for childcare. When this strategy failed, they shifted gears toward organizing home-based family childcare providers. Building on the work of Local 880 in Illinois, SEIU found that family childcare providers, many of whom served clients with childcare subsidies, had a more direct relationship with public funding. They established an employment relationship that allowed providers to bargain directly with the state of Washington.

Examining these three stages concurrently offers several insights into the history of labor organizing in the childcare field, with broader implications for our understanding of labor struggles in the small, often home-based “shops” of care work.

First, daycare organizing was typified by a cooperative rather than an antagonistic approach—between workers and center directors and workers and families. Second, organizers found that this cooperative approach to labor activism was more effective in segments of the industry where larger portions of funding came from government sources. Funding mechanisms proved more important than the spatial status of the worksite (home versus center) in determining the relative successes of labor campaigns. The wins of family childcare workers, in comparison with center-based daycare workers, surprised those who believed sharing a worksite was critical to building a union. The history of childcare worker organizing in the 1990s shows how, amid neoliberal social policy, labor activists successfully responded to the exploitation of waged care workers by harnessing, to workers’ advantage, the solubility of divisions between workplace/home, employer/employee, and labor/love.

The Context for the Emergence of the Worthy Wage Movement

In the decades before the Seattle campaign, childcare had become an industry. Between 1967 and 1990, the number of childcare centers tripled nationwide, and the number of children served quadrupled.5 The industry encompassed a patchwork of options, to which parents had varying degrees of access. While relatively affluent families could hire private household providers (nannies and au pairs), daycare centers and family childcare homes offered a more affordable option to a wider range of families. Daycare centers ranged from corporate chains and small businesses to a variety of nonprofit centers run out of converted houses, community centers, and church basements. Family childcare businesses in providers’ homes operated along a continuum of state oversight, with some providers licensed by the state and many unlicensed and unregulated. Overlaid onto the myriad of childcare types was a complicated system of public funding consisting of both vouchers and tax credits. For parents, the complexity of both care types and funding approaches translated into care that few families could easily access or afford. For workers, the complexity translated into difficulty identifying a funding source from which to demand better pay.

Poverty wages plagued the childcare field. In 1989, childcare workers in Seattle earned an average of $5.21 per hour.6 Many of Seattle's daycare staff, like others nationwide, worked in small centers with fewer than fifteen employees, most of whom worked closely with parents and center directors (fig. 2).7 While corporate chains had expanded rapidly since the 1970s, chains represented only 6 percent of centers used nationwide, and for-profit care only 35 percent of all childcare centers in the United States. The other 29 percent of daycare centers operating for profit were run independently by private proprietors.8 While some of these centers ran as successful businesses, most operated on thin profit margins, a situation that made it challenging to compensate providers fairly. Fewer than one-third of childcare workers in Seattle received fully covered health benefits, and more than 40 percent worked a second job.9 Unsurprisingly, childcare had the notorious distinction of being among the jobs with the highest rates of turnover nationwide: over 40 percent of staff members left each year.10

Although childcare was unique in some ways, it also reflected the larger service sector. The patchwork of formal and informal worksites and public and private funding streams characterized segments of the healthcare and education fields. In many service sector worksites, relationships between workers and management could be close and collaborative, including during union campaigns.11 In care work, the employment relationship was often shaped by a third party, from children and families to students and patients. Organizing approaches often linked the interests of care providers and care recipients.12

Distinguishing childcare in some ways was the absence of a “responsible party” onto whom childcare workers could directly demand higher wages. Teachers, nurses, and home healthcare providers have institutional adversaries in labor disputes—hospitals, school districts, or county agencies. As Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein have shown, home healthcare workers allied with patients to put pressure on government agencies and to avoid transferring their economic struggles to patients.13 Public school teachers have formed similar alliances with students and parents to make demands on school districts.14 Unlike public school students or hospital patients, most families pay out of pocket for childcare.15

Childcare workers also share with nurses, teachers, and home healthcare workers the disproportionate representation of women among their ranks. Women represent roughly 95 percent of childcare workers nationwide.16 Many other forms of care work—nursing, teaching, care for the elderly and infirm—are disproportionately performed by women and associated with women's labor. But childcare, perceived as a commodified form of mothering, is socially coded as women's work perhaps more than any other form of labor.17 This relationship between childcare and mother work made it challenging for care workers to push their labor struggle beyond a zero-sum game with parents, particularly with mothers.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, parents, childcare workers, and feminists of many stripes had come together to demand expanded public funding for childcare, with a vocal coalition of liberal and radical feminists and welfare rights activists calling for free, round-the-clock, and universal childcare.18 Childcare activists in this period often linked the struggles of parents to find affordable and high-quality childcare with the difficulty of workers to secure a livable wage.19 In the 1980s, however, the Reagan administration slashed a variety of social welfare programs, including childcare funding. The privatization of social services in the 1980s contributed to the difficulties of organizing for expanded public care responsibility in the 1990s. For many neoliberals, the patchwork approach to childcare provision, in which families are largely responsible for providing or purchasing care, represented what Melinda Cooper has called an “equilibrium state of the family in a free-market order, a state of mutual dependence and self-sufficiency.” Federal overhaul of welfare and the replacement of Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) sought to reinstate that order.20 While the federal government shifted the responsibilities for care provision onto the family and the market, childcare labor activists in Washington and other states fought for childcare funding expansion. They wished to insulate families and workers from the ravages of the market. In these aims, however, they found themselves increasingly isolated. Neoliberalism not only strengthened channels of upward redistribution but also strained the downwardly redistributive aims of feminist, antiracist, and antipoverty movements, as Lisa Duggan has argued.21

Several efforts to address undercompensation in childcare preceded the Worthy Wage movement. In two regions of the country where local governments chose to continue funding federally established childcare centers after the end of World War II, unions made inroads into organizing workers in publicly funded centers. In the 1960s, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) organized daycare and Head Start workers in California, while the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) organized daycare workers in New York City. In the 1970s, SEIU and the United Auto Workers (UAW) also organized childcare workers, both focusing on publicly funded centers. By the early 1990s, these relatively small undertakings had organized fewer than 4 percent of the country's two million childcare workers.22

The limited nature of contract unionism within childcare belied the breadth of labor organizing in the industry. In the 1970s, daycare employees formed grassroots coalitions in many parts of the country, including Boston, Madison, Minneapolis, and Berkeley. These groups emphasized the shared interests of childcare workers and the families using their services. Often coming out of the women's movement, activists linked undercompensation in childcare to the larger undervaluation of women's paid and unpaid labor.23

The most nationwide of these groups, the Child Care Employee Project (CCEP), formed in 1978 in Berkeley, California.24 Created by a group of childcare workers who had begun meeting informally to discuss workplace issues, CCEP soon broadened its goals, seeking to bring national attention to the issue of childcare compensation.25 Throughout the 1980s, CCEP gathered data and educated the public about the childcare workforce. It was the CCEP that developed the idea for a Worthy Wage campaign.

In 1989, CCEP published the National Child Care Staffing Study (NCCSS), a document that daycare activists around the country drew on for over a decade. Examining 227 childcare centers in five cities, including Seattle, the study concluded that “inadequate compensation is fueling a rapidly increasing and damaging exodus of trained personnel.” Worker compensation, it found, was the single greatest predictor of childcare quality. The authors argued that relying on the low pay of workers to make childcare affordable to families was an untenable solution to America's childcare crisis.26

While the study made national news, earning a lengthy spread in the New York Times, it had a particular impact in Seattle.27 Not only was Seattle one of the five cities studied; it also had a history of childcare activism dating to the late 1960s, when liberal and radical feminists joined efforts in the fight for universal childcare. With a supportive flank of activists from the old left who were receptive to women's issues, and a history of feminists organizing abortion referral services and women's health clinics, Seattle offered a unique environment for addressing issues of social reproduction.28

By the 1990s, Seattle's political climate for childcare organizing was more tepid. On the one hand, voters had elected diverse leaders who showed interest in issues of social and economic justice.29 Governor Gary Locke and Mayor Norm Rice set precedents, respectively, as the first Chinese American state governor in the United States and first African American mayor of Seattle.30 Both Locke and Rice took childcare labor activists seriously and made efforts, albeit limited, to respond to their demands. Political economic transformations throughout the 1980s had narrowed the landscape of political possibility, however. Policies passed during the Reagan and Bush administrations had shifted federal support for childcare away from direct funding (which tended to favor lower-income families) and toward tax credits (which tended to benefit more affluent families).31 The responses of both Locke and Rice to childcare labor activism emphasized career development, training, and efficient management over infusions of cash that would have equitably supported the entire workforce.32 These solutions protected state and municipal budgets from the added strains of social welfare policies voters were increasingly unwilling to bear.33 Obscured by progressive politics and visible measures of expanding political equality, inequality rose. As the headquarters of Microsoft and Boeing, Seattle was an increasingly wealthy hub of the growing tech and aerospace empire of the West Coast. Money streamed into Seattle, much of it remaining in the hands of a few corporate barons.34 Childcare workers underwrote this economic expansion, but they enjoyed few of its rewards.

The Movement for Worthy Wages Emerges

To meet the needs of childcare workers who made the city's growth possible, Seattle's Worthy Wage movement built a campaign that situated the problem and potential solutions within the city's larger political economy. Recognizing that most parents could not afford to pay more for childcare, Worthy Wage activists used work stoppages not to place pressure on employers to raise wages but to alert the public to the problem of underfunding in childcare. The close relationships and allegiances between daycare centers workers and their directors and between daycare workers and the families they served precluded approaches that would have shifted the burden onto families even temporarily. Worthy Wage activists deployed a public education campaign designed to inform voters of the relationship between compensation and childcare quality in hopes of spurring legislative efforts to expand state and local childcare funding.

In 1984, a group of Seattle daycare directors began meeting to improve the economic and cultural valuation of childcare.35 They were frustrated by the high rates of turnover in their centers and their inability to offer workers wages that would keep them in the field. For several years before the 1991 daycare shutdown, the Child Care Directors Association of Greater Seattle (CDAGS) organized an annual Week of the Young Child parade, calling it a Worthy Wage parade for the first time in 1988.36

That daycare directors led the first Worthy Wage center closures appears unusual when compared with more traditional labor actions, usually directed against the boss, not by her. However, directors’ actions, and their role in bringing about the first Worthy Wage center closures, make more sense when contextualized within the relational ecosystem of many daycare centers. While directors managed (and in some cases, owned) centers, their compensation rarely exceeded by a substantive margin what other daycare workers earned.37 The blurred economic lines common in the service sector were particularly hazy in daycare.38

Daycare workers involved with the Worthy Wage movement—who largely worked in small mom-and-pop businesses, nonprofit centers, and parent cooperatives—often saw their bosses as allies rather than adversaries.39 As childcare worker and activist Barb Wiley explained, “Center directors were the working poor.” They made “ridiculous wages” because “it was undervalued women's work.”40 Directors often wore a number of hats. With limited substitute pools, directors stepped in when teachers were out sick.41 Melissa Parson, a worker at the Hilltop Center, recalled that many directors and teachers shared close relationships, the director often mentoring and guiding teachers in the profession.42 Workers and directors were united by their close working relationships and their shared sense that the root of the problem was a society-wide undervaluation of the work of caring for children.

In addition to the connections that many workers felt with their bosses, many also felt strong connections with the families they served (fig. 3). When reflecting on their activism decades later, several Worthy Wage activists noted their empathy for daycare consumers, often single mothers who were themselves underpaid. Lauren Tozzi explained that when she worked in a center for children with autism, “it just stirred so much rage in me that women worked so hard [to meet their children's needs] and when they are doling out the blame they are the first ones who are targeted.”43 While Tozzi spoke about a specific kind of blame placed on mothers of children with disabilities, she was acutely aware of the way society placed the bulk of responsibility for child-rearing on mothers. Working mothers already faced social blame for being unwilling or unable to parent full-time. Melissa Parson shared Tozzi's sense that the undervaluation of her labor stemmed from the broader undervaluation of all women's labor and that the struggles of childcare workers and parents were intimately intertwined. While barely able to afford her rent, Parson also empathized with mothers spending half their salaries on childcare.44 Though both Tozzi's and Parson's recollections reflect the decades they have had to consider their activism in the Worthy Wage movement, they also help to explain why Worthy Wage activists emphasized public over parental responsibility for childcare funding.

Washington, like other states, largely relied on the market to fund childcare, with some subsidy programs for low-income families and childcare tax credits for middle- and upper-income families.45 In the second half of the 1990s, as part of the Clinton administration's welfare reform program, the federal government overhauled childcare funding mechanisms, combining several programs into one funding structure, the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF).46 Under the CCDF, states could set family income eligibility limits up to 85 percent of the state median income.47 Washington State set its eligibility at 56 percent, placing it in the bottom third of all states for ease of access.48 These subsidies were generally provided through vouchers rather than direct payments to childcare providers.49 Both the city of Seattle and King County also had modest subsidy programs for low-income families, but childcare workers argued that these funds did not meet the needs of most families and did little to improve wages among childcare workers (fig. 4).50

In other majority-woman, low-wage occupations, workers had had some successes with the comparable worth strategy, which challenged gender-based wage discrimination at an occupational level. Proponents of comparable worth argued that gender-based discrimination occurred not only through employers paying women less for the same work but also through employers paying less for occupations in which women predominated. In 1983, AFSCME filed suit against the state of Washington, alleging that the state paid teachers, secretaries, and childcare workers wages far below those of male-dominated professions on state payrolls. An investigation found that childcare workers suffered the most, paid 36 percent below comparable professions that were dominated by men. In 1986, Washington State settled out of court and agreed to wage increases between 1987 and 1991.51 Such a strategy, however, had its limitations. Most daycare workers were employed not by the state of Washington but instead by independent businesses and nonprofits. Comparable-worth strategies had been most effective for addressing wage discrimination in large employers with a range of occupations.52 While daycare centers on university campuses or public schools met that description, the vast majority of childcare centers did not lend themselves to a comparable-worth approach.

Instead, Worthy Wage activists focused on raising public awareness of the links between compensation and quality in hopes parents would urge policymakers to expand public funding (fig. 5). In one of the earliest public education tactics, Worthy Wage activists sent children home with a “Full Cost of Care Invoice” to inform parents of the fees they would pay if providers were compensated fairly. Parents opened their children's backpacks to find two sheets of paper. The first announced an “Enrollment Fee Increase” with the new wage rates. “These fees,” they explained, “reflect more accurately our costs of providing quality care for your child. The new fees will go into effect April 1, 1992. Thank you.” The next page clarified: “April Fools!! If you thought that was scary, try working for $5.21/hour.”53 Attached on the final page was a list of actions parents could take on Worthy Wage Day to show solidarity with workers.54 The voluntary actions relied on parents feeling enough concern to get involved and sheltered families from the full burden of childcare costs.

Other public education tactics viscerally linked compensation with dwindling childcare availability. At the second Worthy Wage parade in 1992, activists held a “funeral march,” carrying coffins to mark centers that had gone out of business, unable to operate within the privately funded childcare system.55 Adapting a classic movement song to create the “Battle Hymn of the Child Care Workers,” activists marched through the streets singing, “You may think the hugs and smiles from kids should keep us very snug. / It should be enough to sing all day of dinosaurs and bugs. / But who can pay the rent with smiles or buy our food with hugs. / We deserve a worthy wage.”56 The lyrics highlighted a misperception of childcare labor as merely a source of “pin money” for the women who performed it. Without rejecting the meaning derived from childcare, Worthy Wage activists educated the public about the realities of care work.

The public education campaign proved impossible for Seattle politicians to ignore. Largely in response to the Worthy Wage movement, Seattle mayor Norm Rice created a Child Care Staffing Task Force (CCSTF). In an April 1992 press conference, Rice announced his stance: “Right now, we pay our child care workers like they were flipping burgers, not shaping the values and potential of the next generation.”57 He charged the task force with researching the problem and providing recommendations.58 The CCSTF offered some creative approaches, but these were limited by a business-centric ethos of fiscal management. In the centerpiece accomplishment of the CCSTF, businesses partnered with childcare centers to provide in-kind donations and to help directors learn efficient budgeting and personnel policies.59 These partnerships may have helped individual centers reduce costs, but they fell short of the large-scale infusion of cash desperately needed to shore up childcare wages.

Some activists involved with the Worthy Wage movement suggested that workers’ sense of solidarity with families should not limit the range of tactics they were willing to use. Demanding more militancy of childcare labor activists, they argued that workers would not win higher wages or status until they shifted some of their burden onto families.60 Some argued that the preference for public education stemmed from care workers’ propensity to sacrifice and gendered socialization to put others first.61 These concerns expressed a frustration among some childcare labor activists who believed parents would not make demands of their governments until more of the burden rested on their shoulders. The connections that many daycare workers felt, with directors and with families, could propel all parties to vocalize the inequalities and injustices of the childcare system. But the strategy these connections produced—public education campaigns designed to encourage public action for legislative change—had limited power within the larger political economy. As one former childcare worker and Worthy Wage activist explained, “It's not like the mine owner. . . . There's no bad guy to really fight against.”62

It did not escape Worthy Wage activists, however, that companies like Boeing and Microsoft grew on the backs of low-wage workers who provided care to their employees’ children. Worthy Wage activists distributed report cards to businesses, offering a grade for how well the company met the childcare needs of its employees.63 The Worthy Wage Task Force sent a letter, along with petitions and informational materials, to Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, offering to work together to address the city's childcare crisis by creating on-site daycare at Microsoft.64 When they did not receive a response, they presented a “Poopy Diaper award” to Microsoft at the 1997 Worthy Wage Day rally.65

Other activists within the movement viewed the “bad guy” in childcare as the society-wide undervaluation of women's caring labor. Marcy Whitebook of CCEP and Jim Morin, a childcare director and compensation activist in Wisconsin, built this critique into a short parody. In “If the Shoe Fits: A Worthy Wages Fairy Tale,” they described a kingdom in which a king who “always spoke of how much he loved children and how important they were for the land” cast a spell on the women of the kingdom to exploit their labor: “The spell was a powerful spell. . . . Women believed the myth even when they didn't have enough money to care for their own children, had to work second jobs or take in more children than the rules permitted. . . . [They] would even chant in public, ‘We love kids; we're not in it for the money!’”66 By explaining childcare workers’ willingness to sacrifice as a “spell,” Whitebook and Morin attempted to name an issue that often curtailed the militancy of the childcare labor movement. The “spell” nomenclature cast the divide between care for children and care for oneself as an illusion, one that could be shattered by recognizing that accepting low wages in the name of service to children was not a noble sacrifice but complicity with gender and class exploitation.

Attempting to build an analytic of exploitation that described the childcare system holistically, Worthy Wage activists often elided a pressing critique of racial exploitation. Women of color composed nearly a third of the childcare workforce nationwide and at least a quarter of the childcare workforce in Seattle, yet most of the city's Worthy Wage activists were white.67 Aware that the demographics of their movement did not represent the workforce and wishing to change that, the Worthy Wage Task Force tried different strategies to address the underrepresentation of women of color, including both internal anti-bias work and outreach and leadership training for childcare workers in minoritized communities.68

The scant literature on the Worthy Wage movement has analyzed the successes and failures of these attempts to build cross-racial childcare alliances.69 For many childcare workers of color, however, the racial issues in childcare were often as pressing as those of compensation. The Child Care Employee Project and Worthy Wage activists consistently emphasized that improving compensation was the most important lever for improving quality, and most workers of color did not contest those claims. At the same time, the activism of Black, Latina, and Asian American childcare workers suggested that “quality” had a multiplicity of meanings in the childcare community.

In addition to the problems of underfunding and high rates of turnover across the childcare system, families of color also dealt with culturally inappropriate and largely monolingual childcare. Efforts to improve the quality of care for children of color, to develop bilingual childcare, and to address underfunding in centers serving children from minoritized communities began with the African-American Child Care Task Force, led by Sandria Woods-Pollard and other Black women working in the childcare field. Latina and Asian American and Pacific Islander childcare workers soon formed similar task forces to address the needs of children in their communities.70 These efforts recognized that quality of care was tied to systemic racism that better compensation alone could not address.71 It was not until childcare activists turned their attention to family childcare, at the end of the decade, that Seattle's childcare labor movement began to represent the diversity of women in the city's childcare workforce.

“We Wanted to Strike against Washington State”: The Child Care Union Project

By the mid-1990s, the Worthy Wage movement had generated awareness of poverty wages plaguing the childcare industry but had not, by and large, improved the situation.72 To build their power, the Worthy Wage Task Force affiliated with SEIU District 925. Wishing to respect workers’ close relationships with their bosses and with the families they served and their desire to maintain a nonadversarial approach to labor organizing, SEIU built their strategy around a legislative campaign. The idea was that they would use SEIU's power in Washington State to accomplish Worthy Wages’ goal of expanding public funding for childcare. They would organize the city's daycare workers into a union, but they would do that through collaborative labor-management relations. Like Worthy Wage activists, SEIU found these strategies necessary for gaining workers’ trust and support, but limited in their ability to substantially improve workers’ material well-being.

On May 1, 1998—the annual Worthy Wage Day—SEIU 925 and the Worthy Wage Task Force announced their partnership, called the Child Care Union Project (CUP), to a crowd of over six hundred people.73 Barb Wiley, who began working as an organizer for CUP, explained why Worthy Wage activists had decided to form a union after nearly a decade of deliberation.74 “We've worked for years,” Wiley wrote, “to make improvements in compensation for teachers and providers, to elevate our voice and to increase respect for our profession, but we couldn't accomplish what we wanted without more resources and more clout.”75 At the rally, Child Care Employee Project director Marcy Whitebook triumphantly declared that compensation activists no longer had to make the case to the press that the issue was important, she explained, for “this time reporters themselves expressed outrage at the situation.”76 The movement's first stage, focused on public education, had built the groundwork for that awareness. While CUP was not the first childcare union in the country, it was one of the most ambitious efforts to organize providers in centers that were not publicly funded and thus did not share a common employer.77 The partnership planned to target all of Seattle's six thousand daycare workers.78

Worthy Wage activists had reason to hope that a powerful union could help them accomplish their goals of bringing more money into the childcare industry. In other parts of North America, daycare workers and childcare advocates had some success in urging governments to absorb a larger share of childcare costs. In 1997, Quebec created a province-wide universal childcare program that charged families no more than $5 per day for care. This effort drew on decades of activism led by feminists, parent committees, and labor unions.79 SEIU also had an appealing track record of successfully organizing workforces that were notoriously difficult to organize, including janitors in Los Angeles and home healthcare aides across the country.

SEIU's District 925 had a feminist reputation that appealed to many Worthy Wage members, who rooted their childcare activism in feminist commitments. District 925 had grown out of 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women, an organization founded in the early 1970s by Boston-based clerical workers.80 Worthy Wage activists trusted the political commitments of organizers such as Kim Cook, who had participated in feminist consciousness-raising groups in college, worked clerical jobs, and joined Seattle Working Women, a chapter of 9 to 5, in the late 1970s. Cook had spent more than a decade organizing woman-majority workplaces, including Head Start. By the mid-1990s, Cook herself had a small child and thought regularly about the problems plaguing the childcare field, including the link between the low wages paid to workers and the difficulty parents faced finding reliable, high-quality care. Cook had met Barb Wiley, Laura Chandler, and Lauren Tozzi, and her conversations with them helped her understand the priorities of the Worthy Wage movement. She had to convince SEIU to devote resources to daycare organizing, a field in which few unions had previously succeeded, and to build a nontraditional approach to unionization that would honor workers’ relationships with children, parents, and directors.81

Cook quickly realized what Worthy Wage activists understood: they needed to “bring a different form of power to this situation.”82 Because wage increases based on raised rates would only shift workers’ economic burden onto families and potentially drive some centers out of business, CUP focused on public solutions.83 They committed to maintaining the cooperative relationships between parents, workers, and centers that Worthy Wage activists valued.84 CUP's strategy was to create a master collective bargaining agreement among supportive centers that other unionized centers could sign on to.85 As CUP organizer and daycare worker Laura Chandler explained, the CUP chose nonadversarial approaches because striking for better wages “would be going on strike against our parents. We wanted to strike against Washington State.”86

CUP successfully organized 12 of the 243 licensed centers in Seattle. Nearly all of the centers that unionized had been involved with Worthy Wages, and nearly all had directors that supported unionization. Only one of the twelve centers held an election; at the other eleven centers the boards granted card check recognition.87 After a year of negotiations, the centers signed a master contract in December 1999. The contract offered workers a modest pension plan, vacation days, sick leave, and planning days. It also codified practices for hiring and firing and offered workers more input in those decisions.88

Initially, the union had high hopes for wage improvements. Working with a Seattle-based progressive policy institute called the Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI), CUP built several plans to channel city, county, and state funding into childcare. At the municipal level, Seattle passed an ordinance that gave 250 workers at 25 centers hourly wage increases of $0.25.89 King County also adopted a policy to improve wages, but never funded the program.90 The greatest successes were at the state level, where Governor Gary Locke used $4 million of TANF surplus funds to develop a Career and Wage Ladder (CWL) designed by the EOI. The CWL provided annual average wage subsidies of $2,000, based on education and experience, to 1,500 workers in over 115 childcare centers. The subsidies covered about 7 percent of the state's centers.91 Washington found the program successful in retaining teachers; turnover dropped by as much as 30 percent in the participating centers.92 In 2003, however, facing budgetary pressure, Washington State cut funding for the program and continued to fund the CWL only sporadically.93 The intermittent state funding has been on indefinite hiatus since 2011.94

Without significant injections of public funding into childcare, the Child Care Union Partnership found it difficult to organize more centers. CUP's strategy, dependent as it was on the expectation of widespread director support following the expansion of public funding, broke down when public funding streams proved inadequate and unstable. CUP found director support to be the critical factor determining whether a center's workers would join the union. Nearly all of the initial twelve centers that joined the union had directors who supported the efforts. Cook recalled having personally spoken with every childcare director in the city, trying to convince them to sign on. But without significant public funding, many directors hesitated.95

CUP tried different approaches to secure public funding. One creative initiative that gathered support but never passed involved a citywide “latte tax” on mixed coffee drinks that would have directly supported childcare wages.96 As city and state funds dwindled, new centers stopped signing on. Noting SEIU's successes in Illinois organizing family childcare providers, who ran small centers out of their homes, the union began to turn its attention to the home-based sector.97 Many family childcare providers received a significant portion of their revenue from government reimbursements for the care of low-income children.98 Negotiating with one employer, the state, eliminated the challenges of coordinating contract negotiations across a myriad of independent nonprofits and small businesses.99 “They had a public funding source to go after,” Barb Wiley recalled. “There was just no money to go after in centers.” Rather than putting pressure on centers to raise wages via increased parent fees, organizing efforts directed at family childcare providers could put pressure on the state to raise reimbursement rates for low-income children eligible for state subsidies.100

Family Childcare Organizing

In the early 1990s, when Worthy Wage activists first began meeting, family childcare appeared a more challenging segment of the workforce to organize. As home-based providers, most worked alone. As independent contractors, family childcare providers did not have collective bargaining rights. In the mid- to late 1990s, however, several changes in the national landscape made family childcare a more feasible and appealing workforce to organize. For one, family childcare had expanded rapidly in the wake of welfare reform as states sought relatively low-cost forms of childcare that would allow former welfare recipients with young children to enter the workforce.101 Second, SEIU's wins with home healthcare workers paved the way for new forms of home-based worker organizing. When District 925 turned its attention to family childcare, providers won wage improvements, paid time off, and some healthcare coverage. Victories also offered benefits to families, improving the quality of care children received.102 Central to that success was the greater prevalence of public funding in the family childcare sector compared to center-based care. To secure substantive change through contract victories, workers did not need to shift their burden onto families or create an antagonistic relationship between workers and management (in family childcare, most workers were their own bosses). The comparison between SEIU's campaigns among Washington's daycare workers and family childcare providers suggests that social unionism offered clearer paths to material victories to public sector and adjacent workers than to private sector workers.

Beyond the home-based setting, there is little similarity between family childcare homes, and most care takes place along a continuum of formality. Providers who care only for small numbers of children related to them are considered “license exempt.” When providers care for a larger number of unrelated children—the number differs by state—providers are subject to state licensing. Many providers choose not to pursue a license, and states differ on the extent to which they monitor these unlicensed providers. In addition to the distinction between license-exempt, licensed, and unlicensed family childcare, there is also an important distinction between providers who care only for the children of private-pay clients and providers who care for one or more children whose parents receive childcare subsidies through the Child Care and Development Block Grant.103

As small business owners, Washington's family childcare providers were not only classified as independent contractors, a status that denied them access to collective bargaining; they were also subject to federal antitrust law.104 These challenges necessitated new approaches, as unions could not organize family childcare providers in any traditional way. Drawing on experience organizing home healthcare workers, SEIU organizers knew that they needed to leverage the cooperative relationships in care work to build political partnerships and lobby states for the shared interests of the care recipient–care worker alliance. They also knew that the challenge of independent contractor status could be overcome through providers’ financial relationship with the state vis-à-vis subsidy reimbursement. They could make the state the providers’ “employer of record.”

SEIU had begun organizing family childcare providers in Illinois in the summer of 1996.105 Since workers’ homes were their shop floors, union campaigns had to temporally and spatially orient to the quasi-private space of the home.106 Providers typically work very long days, needing to accommodate different parents’ work schedules. The first child might be dropped off at six o'clock in the morning, the last child not picked up until six o'clock in the evening.107 To meet with providers when they were available to talk, organizers visited during scheduled nap times or after children went home in the evening.108

After nearly a decade of organizing workers door-to-door and lobbying at the state level, SEIU had a breakthrough when, in February 2005, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich signed an executive order that granted family childcare providers the right to negotiate and bargain collectively with the state, the first such order in the country. Forty-nine thousand family childcare workers would end up joining SEIU, one of the largest labor victories in over half a century.109

When SEIU 880 in Illinois announced its family childcare victory, Kim Cook was looking for ways to reignite the stalled effort to organize center-based daycare workers in Seattle. She remembered thinking, “Oh my god, we are missing the boat.” A group of providers from the Family Child Care Association of the Northwest approached Cook, telling her, “‘We're the ones that you should organize, there are ten thousand of us and . . . we hate the state of Washington.’” They resented the state's stringent regulatory bureaucracy and low reimbursement rates.110 Dora Herrera, a family childcare provider from Olympia, described how she and other providers often felt intimidated by state licensors who entered their homes and demanded changes without warning or explanation. A licensor wrote Herrera up for having sealed containers of mouthwash and diaper cream in a bathroom cabinet that the children could reach. Even though the licensor watched Herrera move the items to a higher location, she still wrote the violation down in her report. These experiences could make providers feel as though the state was their adversary, not an ally in the process of running safe, high-quality programs.111 Recognizing that they faced an uphill battle in organizing daycare centers, SEIU switched gears and began organizing family childcare providers. They did not plan to abandon center-based workers, however. They calculated that if they won a contract for the state's family childcare providers, they would have greater success convincing center-based workers to join.112

With the change in strategy, more daycare workers of color joined SEIU's efforts. The racial and ethnic backgrounds of family childcare providers tended to reflect the neighborhoods where they lived and worked, a dynamic that created a great deal of diversity in the home-based childcare sector.113 Black neighborhoods in Seattle, white rural communities in the Columbia basin, and networks of El Salvadoran, Somali, and Russian immigrants across the state produced family childcare organizers whose shared concerns about unlivable reimbursement rates, nonpayment for child no-show policies, and lack of health insurance united them in common cause against the state of Washington.114 Similar to center-based workers, family childcare providers often felt strong affective ties with the children and families they served, connections that led many providers to see their work as a form of community care.115 The home-based sector offered an avenue for organizing the childcare workforce in which unionism had a clear route to honor the shared interests of workers and families.

Family childcare organizers in both Illinois and Washington recognized that the greatest challenge to the campaign would not be organizing the workforce but, rather, in changing the laws to allow collective bargaining.116 The strategy relied on a system of state and federal subsidies, expanded by welfare reform.117 Because family childcare homes tended to be more affordable and convenient than centers, children with subsidies from the state disproportionately attended family childcare.118 Unlike most daycare centers, many family childcare homes were funded entirely with state dollars, making the state an indirect employer. This employment relationship with the state gave SEIU a strategy for organizing: they would focus on providers with subsidized clients. SEIU used this novel “employer of record” approach that it had first tested with home healthcare workers.119

Building on the momentum of a “meet and confer” directive issued by Governor Christine Gregoire to the Department of Social and Health Services that required the department to seek input from the union, SEIU turned to the state legislature to win collective bargaining rights.120 District 925 urged providers to call their legislators every time they ran into an issue, such as late payments. The campaign's organizing director, Karen Hart, laughed remembering the calls that workers placed to lawmakers about every issue they faced. “[The legislators] were so tired of hearing from these women. . . . The next year we had the bill and it sailed through.”121 In 2005, the Washington State legislature granted family childcare providers the rights to collective bargaining, the second such law in the country. Governor Gregoire signed the bill into law in March 2006.122

The agreement that SEIU reached with the state of Washington divided providers into two bargaining units: the roughly ten thousand providers who served families with childcare subsidies and the approximately fifteen hundred providers who did not. The subsidized providers could engage in collective bargaining with the state. The unsubsidized providers could only participate in “negotiated rulemaking,” a process that allowed them to help develop the regulations that governed their centers, and thus their working conditions, but that did not impact wages. When elections were held for each bargaining unit, the union won by a significant margin.123

By November 2006, Washington's subsidized family childcare providers negotiated their first contract, which included 10 percent reimbursement rate increases over a two-year contract period, as well as paid holidays, payments when children were absent, and a training fund.124 Health insurance wins, a priority for workers, were more limited. The state agreed to pay up to $555 per month toward the healthcare premiums of licensed providers who cared for four or more subsidized children, but it set a cap on the total amount of health insurance coverage it would provide and limited eligibility to those first enrolled.125 This funding provided health insurance coverage to roughly six hundred of the more than ten thousand providers the union hoped to cover.126

During the period that SEIU 925 was organizing family childcare providers and negotiating a contract, organizers continued to grapple with the problem of daycare centers.127 Many of the city's daycare centers had significant numbers of subsidized clients and also struggled with low reimbursement rates from the state.128 SEIU began to explore whether they could use an “employer of record” strategy with center-based workers, similar to the strategy in family childcare.129 In 2007, they drafted a law that would allow workers in centers with subsidized children to bargain directly with the state on issues related to fiscal support.130 The agreement would not affect working conditions or the directors’ control over center management.131 The possibility of improving wages by bargaining with the state intrigued both daycare workers and directors. Many new centers signed on, galvanized by the successes in family childcare.132

The process of influencing policy proved far more difficult with daycare workers than with family childcare providers, however. As Kim Cook explained, “People on the left said, oh, these workers and their bosses, the directors, are going to be in the same union, you can't do that, that's . . . not a union. So the left thought we were selling out the workers. And the right thought, you know, these people shouldn't have a union.”133 In addition to political critiques, the law also faced opposition from large childcare employers, including nonprofits such as the YMCA and corporate childcare chains such as KinderCare.134 SEIU tried different approaches, writing the bill in ways that would address the concerns of different constituencies. But they were never able to get it passed. For organizers, the defeat was devastating. “That was the biggest disappointment in my life,” Kim Cook reflected. “My biggest accomplishment was getting the family childcare thing done; my biggest disappointment was not getting it done for childcare centers.”135

Washington's family childcare providers would go on to sign several more contracts with the state of Washington, eventually winning “bedrock” funding that protected providers from losing income when children were absent.136 However, in the Child Care Union Project, only a few of the original twelve daycare centers that signed on remain open and unionized today.137 It would be difficult to argue that family childcare providers in Washington State, as elsewhere in the United States, are fairly compensated for their work, but they have found ways to build on their employment relationship with the state to secure some benefits and compensation improvements, victories that have largely eluded the state's daycare workers.

Conclusion

The centrality of directors in Washington's childcare labor movements proved a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the Worthy Wage movement might not have taken off in Seattle without the activism of directors. They started Seattle's movement, bringing to public attention the issue of poverty wages in childcare and their concern about the high rates of turnover. Directors also brought workers into the movement, providing energy and organizational direction. The presence of directors in shaping strategy may have been more ambivalent. Without the involvement of directors, might workers have opted for strategies that would have inconvenienced families, even temporarily, and driven families to lobby their legislatures for more childcare funding? While the public education campaign did not have the desired impact of igniting a voter-driven effort, it is difficult to assess whether work stoppages would have succeeded. Neither workers nor directors were remiss in worrying that increasing parent fees might have ultimately forced some centers out of business. Similarly, the question of whether directors’ close relationships with workers might have prevented more centers from unionizing is also difficult to answer. Even if more centers had held and won elections, the challenges that centers in the CUP faced in organizing for ongoing wage improvements suggest that expanded unionism in Washington's daycare centers may have had a limited impact on wages and working conditions without concurrent public funding expansion.

SEIU District 925’s movement into family childcare added further complexity to the issue of managerial control in childcare labor organizing. For family childcare providers, the issue of being classified as their own bosses posed a challenge to be overcome. By shifting employer status onto the state with regard to funding, while retaining managerial status over various aspects of their own labor, family childcare providers found a way to make demands on the public without major inconveniences to the families they served or risks to their own businesses. Because many family childcare providers took large numbers of clients with state subsidies, they could more easily make the case that they were public employees. While daycare workers had less success building the connection to public funding streams that proved necessary for family childcare providers, the relational worlds of both sets of workers had a profound impact on the way they organized and defined their needs. Their experiences suggest that the relational contours of childcare work, including relationships with directors, families, and the state, will likely play an important role in any future efforts to fairly compensate the workers raising America's children.

Epigraph source: “Worthy Wage Chants and Songs,” n.d., box 2, folder 12, Barb Wiley Papers, Accession No. 5682-002, University of Washington Special Collections, Seattle (hereafter BWP).

I am grateful to the workers, organizers, and other activists who shared their experiences for this article: Rebecca Adrian, John Burbank, Laura Chandler, Kim Cook, Myra Glassman, Wendy Harris, Karen Hart, Dora Herrera, Charlotte Jahn, Brooke Lather-McElligott, Theressa Lenear, Wei Li-Chen, Melissa Parson, Fran Partridge, Randi Solinsky, Debra Sullivan, Lisa Thomas (name has been changed to honor request for anonymity), Laura Tozzi, Marcy Whitebook, Barb Wiley, and Sandria Woods-Pollard. Their names are listed alphabetically, as are those of readers who graciously reviewed this essay at different stages in its development: Fred Block, Eileen Boris, James Campbell, Dorothy Sue Cobble, Estelle Freedman, Isaac Jabola-Carolus, Karl Klare, Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, Annelise Orleck, Rebecca Wall, Gabriel Winant, and an anonymous second reader. While their feedback has improved this essay immensely, the views expressed here (and any potential errors) are solely my own. I am also grateful to Stanford's Gender History Workshop and the other members of the 2021–22 fellow cohort at the Center for Engaged Scholarship for their feedback. This research was supported by the Stanford History Department, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, the Stanford Humanities Center, the Center for Engaged Scholarship, the Western Association of Women's Historians, and Cornell University's Klarman Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Notes

1.

“On the Move for Worthy Wages: Seattle Centers Stage One-Day Walkout,” Child Care Employee News 10, no. 2 (Summer 1991), box 1, folder 10, BWP.

2.

“Child Care on the Move for Worthy Wages,” n.d., box 1, folder 10, BWP.

3.

Worthy Wage Day Activities, April 21, 1994, box 22, folder 53, Center for the Child Care Workforce Records, Accession Number LR001788, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI (hereafter CCCW); “Worthy Wage Day Activities 1996,” n.d., box 22, folder 60, CCCW.

4.

“Labor Force Participation Rate by Sex, Race and Hispanic Ethnicity, 1948–2016 Annual Averages”; Cohany and Sok, “Married Mothers in the Labor Force,” 10. The Bureau of Labor Statistics did not start tracking data on childcare workers until the early 1980s. Official records show the childcare workforce growing from 572,000 in 1984 to 1.2 million in 1996. These numbers, which only reflect those workers willing to reveal their occupation on official documents, likely undercount the total childcare workforce by a significant margin (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 1986–1987 edition [Bulletin no. 2250, April 1986] and 1998–1999 edition [Bulletin no. 2500, January 1998]).

5.

Roger Neugebauer, “An Up-to-Date Look at the Supply of Child Care,” Status Report on Child Care 1990, Child Care Information Exchange, January 1992, https://ccie-catalog.s3.amazonaws.com/library/5008314.pdf (accessed June 17, 2023).

6.

“What Is the Child Care Staffing Crisis?,” n.d., box 1, folder 7, BWP.

7.

Child Care Staffing Task Force, Staff Compensation Fact-Finding Study, September 1992, Program Profiles, box 1, folder 12, Child Care Staffing Task Force Records, Collection Number 3623-03, Seattle Municipal Archives, Seattle, Washington (hereafter CCSTF).

8.

Neugebauer, “Up-to-Date Look at the Supply of Child Care.”

9.

“National Child Care Staffing Study Revisited: Four Years in the Life of Center-Based Child Care: Seattle,” Child Care Employee Project, 1992, box 2, folder 15, CCSTF; “What Is the Child Care Staffing Crisis?”

10.

Marcy Whitebook, Carollee Howes, and Deborah Phillips, “Who Cares? Child Care Teachers and the Quality of Care in America: Executive Summary National Child Care Staffing Study,” Child Care Employee Project, 1989, box 1, folder 8, BWP; “In Whose Hands: A Demographic Fact Sheet on Child Care Providers,” National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1985, box 1, folder 10, BWP.

16.

Barbara Willer and Lynn Johnson, “The Crisis Is Real: Demographics on the Problem of Recruiting and Retaining Early Childhood Staff,” National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1989, box 1, folder 10, BWP; Tuominen, “Hidden Organization of Labor,” 234; Tuominen, “Speaking and Organizing across Difference,” 27; Linda Smith et al., “Characteristics of the Child Care Workforce,” Bipartisan Policy Center, February 8, 2021, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/characteristics-of-the-child-care-workforce/.

22.

Child Care Employee Project, “Take Action! Worthy Wage Day” flier, 1992, box 3, folder 2, CCCW; Reese, “But Who Will Care for the Children?,” 235; Dan Bellm, Alice Burton, Renu Shukla, and Marcy Whitebook, “Making Work Pay in the Child Care Industry: Promising Practices for Improving Compensation,” National Center for the Early Childhood Work Force, 1997, 40, box 1, folder 18, BWSWWCP.

23.

Daycare workers who struck in Vancouver, Canada in 1976 also demanded the deprivatization of families’ caregiving responsibilities. Pasolli and Smith, “Labor Relations of Love,” 42.

24.

The name changed to the National Center for the Early Childhood Workforce (NCECW) in 1994 and to the Center for the Child Care Workforce (CCCW) in 1997. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to it as the CCEP.

27.

Tamar Lewin, “Study Finds High Turnover in Child Care Workers,” New York Times, October 18, 1989.

28.

Winslow, “Primary and Secondary Contradictions in Seattle,” 236; Nelson, More than Medicine, 92; Wanda Adams, “Seattle's Campus Day Care War,” Action for Children: A Newsletter of Local Action Programs for Children 1, no. 1 (October 1970), Day Care and Child Development Council of America, 4, Records of the National Organization for Women, box 33, folder 37, Schlesinger Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Swinth, Feminism's Forgotten Fight, 174–79.

35.

“The History of CDAGS,” Child Care Directors Association of Greater Seattle, cdagswa.org (accessed November 29, 2019).

37.

Ann Pelo, “Seattle Worthy Wage Day,” unpublished notes, n.d., box 2, folder 3, BWP.

39.

The average Seattle daycare center served sixty children. Child Care Staffing Task Force, Staff Compensation Fact-Finding Study, September 1992.

40.

Barb Wiley, interview with author, October 14, 2020.

41.

Randi Solinsky, interview with author, October 7, 2020.

42.

Melissa Parson, interview with author, November 13, 2020.

43.

Lauren Tozzi, interview with author, September 30, 2020.

44.

Parson interview.

45.

In 1992, Washington State provided childcare subsidies to roughly thirty thousand children per month. Qualifying low-income parents needed to either be working, participating in an educational program, or unhoused. Marna Miller and Jim Mayfield, “Child Care Rates in Washington State: 1992,” Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Olympia, Office of Research and Data Analysis, January 1994, 12, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED374360.pdf.

50.

Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition, “Child Care Fact Sheet,” July 1997, BWP, box 1, folder 24; Diedtra Henderson, “Day-Care Study Finds Fewer Resources for Black-Run Centers,” Seattle Times, January 12, 1993.

51.

“Worthy Wages: Comparable Worth: Pay Equity as a Strategy for the Child Care Field,” reprinted from Compensation Initiatives Bulletin 1, April 1994, National Center for the Early Childhood Work Force, Washington Association for the Education of Young Children (WAEYC) News 5, June 1994, box 2, folder 14, BWSWWCP.

52.

Marcy Whitebook and Gerri Ginsburg, “Comparable Worth: Questions and Answers for Early Childhood Staff,” Child Care Employee Project, 1985, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED264949.pdf.

53.

Worthy Wages “April Fools” flier, n.d., box 2, folder 20, BWSWWCP.

54.

Dear Parents letter, “What Is the Full Cost of Child Care and Who Will Pay for It? or How to Solve the Child Care Crisis?,” Mercer Island (Agda), April 1992, box 2, folder 10, CCSTF.

55.

Rebecca Adrian, Ann Pelo, Lauren Tozzi, and Barb Wiley, “History of the Seattle Worthy Wages Movement,” n.d., box 2, folder 8, BWP.

56.

“Worthy Wage Chants and Songs,” n.d., box 2, folder 12, BWP. Note that the song lyrics spelled the second “hugs” as “bugs.” I corrected the presumed typo.

57.

Office of the Mayor, City of Seattle, “Remarks by Seattle Mayor Norm Rice: The Crisis in Child Care Staffing,” April 2, 1992, box 1, folder 15, CCSTF.

58.

Dick Lilly, “City Targets Low Salaries for Child Care,” Seattle Times, April 3, 1992, box 1, folder 15, CCSTF.

59.

Memorandum from Jon Whalen, Chair of the Child Care Staffing Task Force to Mayor Norm Rice and Councilmember Sherry Harris, “Funding Proposals,” August 3, 1993, Child Care Staffing Task Force, box 3, folder 2, CCSTF; Business/Child Care Partnership 1996 Annual Report, box 2, folder 9, BWSWWCP; letter from Nina Auerbach to Billie Young, February 22, 1993, Child Care Staffing Task Force, box 2, folder 16, CCSTF; Child Care Staffing Task Force Staff Compensation Survey Report, April 1993, box 2, folder 16, CCSTF.

61.

Margaret Boyer, “System Suffers from Unintended Collusion,” News and Trends for Child-Care Professionals, Alliance of Early Childhood Professionals 1, no. 3 (May–June 1997), box 2, folder 26, BWP; Marcy Whitebook, Caro Pemberton, Joan Lombardi, and Ellen Galinsky, “From the Floor: Raising Child Care Salaries,” Child Care Employee Project, 1990, box 1, folder 8, BWP.

62.

Solinsky interview.

63.

Notes from planning meeting, Seattle Worthy Wages Task Force, January 17, 1996, box 2, folder 23, BWP.

64.

September 1994 Steering Committee Meeting Minutes, Worthy Wages Task Force, September 10, 1996, box 2, folder 23, BWP.

65.

Adrian et al., “History of the Seattle Worthy Wages Movement.”

66.

Marcy Whitebook and Jim Morin, “If the Shoe Fits: A Worthy Wages Fairy Tale,” The Language of Money and Family Child Care, 1992, box 2, folder 7, BWSWWCP.

67.

Whitebook, Howes, and Phillips, “Who Cares?,” 8, box 1, folder 8, BWP. In 1997, at least 20 percent of Seattle's childcare workers identified as Black, and at least 5 percent identified as Latina. Seattle Worthy Wages Task Force, “Consolidating the Center: Proposal to the Ms. Foundation,” June 13, 1997, box 1, folder 10, BWSWWCP.

68.

“Leadership, Empowerment and Diversity: Confronting the Child Care Crisis,” Proposal to A Territory Resource, Seattle Worthy Wages Task Force, September 1, 1995, box 1, folder 1, BWSWWCP; Seattle Worth Wages Task Force, “Consolidating the Center.”

70.

Sandria Woods-Pollard, interview with author, October 12, 2020; Debra Sullivan, interview with author, November 24, 2020; Theressa Lenear, interview with author, November 5, 2020; Charlotte Jahn, interview with author, November 6, 2020; Wei Li-Chen, interview with author, November 18, 2020.

71.

For a more detailed analysis of the racial politics of childcare labor activism in Seattle and the work of Seattle's culturally relevant childcare task forces, see Modica, “Who Cares?,” chap. 6.

72.

“Seattle Worthy Wage Day Rally, May 1, 1998,” Marcy Whitebook, Center for the Child Care Workforce, box 2, folder 4, BWP; Profile: The Child Care Work Force, National Center for the Early Childhood Work Force, n.d., box 2, folder 9, BWSWWCP.

73.

Adrian et al., “History of the Seattle Worthy Wages Movement”; Tyrone Beason, “Kids, Parents, Even the Boss March for Better Wages for Child-Care Workers—Pay Averaging $7.19 an Hour Spurs Union-Organizing Drive,” Seattle Times, May 2, 1998, Business sec.

74.

Wiley interview; “Good News for Childcare in King County!,” n.d., box 2, folder 4, BWP.

75.

Lynne Barbee, “Childcare Teachers and Providers Form Union,” article for WAEYC newsletter, May 1998, box 2, folder 4, BWP.

76.

Marcy Whitebook, “Seattle Worthy Wage Day Rally, May 1, 1998,” box 2, folder 4, BWP.

77.

Some workers at Seattle's therapeutic childcare centers had begun to organize in 1989 with the Health Care Division of UFCW Local 1001. “A First!—Childcare Workers Unionize,” Professional/Health Care News, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1001, Winter 1989, box 37, folder 65, CCCW.

78.

“Draft: King County Child Care Organizing Proposed Two Year Plan Outline,” n.d., box 2, folder 4, BWP.

80.

District 925 SEIU Origins, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, n.d., https://reuther.wayne.edu/ex/925/Origins.html (accessed February 10, 2023); Laura Chandler, interview with author, October 5, 2020.

81.

Kim Cook, interview with author, March 29, 2023.

82.

Cook interview.

83.

“Worthy Wages = Quality Care,” Labor's Voice, Summer 1998, box 2, folder 14, BWSWWCP; Sonya Huber, “Childcare Workers Clamor for Respect—and a Raise,” In These Times, September 20, 1998, box 2, folder 14, BWSWWCP.

84.

“Questions and Answers for Parents about the Childcare Union Project,” Childcare Union Project, n.d., box 2, folder 4, BWP.

85.

“Draft: King County Child Care Organizing Proposed Two Year Plan Outline.”

86.

Chandler interview.

88.

Rebecca Adrian, Denise Wiley, and Pat Durbin, untitled script, circa 2000–2001, box 2, folder 11, BWSWWCP; Letter from Dorothy Gibson to Local 925, “SEIU Bold Action,” October 6, 1998, box 2, folder 5, BWP; Letter to Commissioner Hammond from Dorothy Gibson, Organizer Representative, District 925, SEIU, October 22, 1998, box 2, folder 4, BWP; “Seattle Child Care Centers Profile,” November 20, 1996, box 2, folder 1, BWP; Brooks, “What Differences Unionizing Providers Might Make,” 9–12.

89.

Kim Cook, “Child Care and Early Learning Organizing Timeline,” n.d., sent by Cook to author on March 23, 2023.

90.

Email exchange with Jessica Cafferty, Child Care Policy Lead for King County, June 17, 2021; John Burbank, “Funding History and Ideas for Line Item December 2014,” unpublished document sent to author by John Burbank, June 10, 2021.

91.

Brooks, “What Differences Unionizing Providers Might Make,” 10–11. Brooks notes that Locke's decision to allocate TANF funds to childcare worker wages owed in large part to the lobbying of the Child Care Union Project. Previous efforts to get the state to build new funding streams for childcare had failed to yield results until Worthy Wage activists partnered with SEIU. Joan Fitzgerald, “Caring for Children as a Career,” American Prospect, Summer 2002, A30; Moon and Burbank, “Policy Brief,” 6–8.

92.

Fitzgerald, “Caring for Children as a Career,” A30.

93.

John Burbank, interview with author, June 10, 2021. For an example of a more enduring childcare wage subsidy program created in the early 2000s, see San Francisco's WAGES+ program, which provided wage supplements to childcare workers caring for low-income children and, like the programs in Seattle and Washington State, relied on a “ladder” approach that based wage supplements on providers’ experience and training. Thomas et al., “At the Wage Floor,” 15–16.

94.

Email exchange with Jessica Cafferty; Burbank, “Funding History and Ideas for Line Item December 2014.”

95.

Cook interview.

96.

Cook, “Child Care and Early Learning Organizing Timeline”; “Newswatch—Pacific Northwest,” Seattle Times, August 13, 2002; “The Loopy Latte Tax Is a Half-Baked Idea,” op-ed, Seattle Times, September 12, 2002; Nicole Brodeur, “Latte Lovers Steaming over This Guy,” Seattle Times, August 21, 2003.

97.

Chandler interview.

98.

“In Their Own Words: On a New Law That Gives Child Care Providers Collective Bargaining Rights,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 20, 2006.

99.

Paul Nyhan, “Child Care Operators to Join Union,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 22, 2005.

100.

Wiley interview.

102.

Cobble and Merrill, “The Promise of Service Worker Unionism,” 162; 2007–2009 Collective Bargaining Agreement by and between State of Washington and Service Employees International Union 925, sent to author by SEIU Local 925 on June 6, 2023.

106.

Glassman interview.

108.

Glassman interview.

110.

Cook interview; Kim Cook, “Seattle Child Care Organizing History,” n.d., sent to the author via email, March 30, 2023.

111.

Dora Herrera, interview with author, May 31, 2023.

112.

Cook interview.

114.

Brooke Lather-McElligott, interview with author, April 7, 2023; Karen Hart, interview with author, April 12, 2023.

116.

Glassman interview.

120.

Cook, “Seattle Child Care Organizing History”; Chalfie, Blank, and Entmacher, “Getting Organized,” 14.

121.

Hart interview.

122.

Cook, “Seattle Child Care Organizing History.”

123.

Cook, “Seattle Child Care Organizing History”; Chalfie, Blank, and Entmacher, “Getting Organized,” 14–15.

124.

Chalfie, Blank, and Entmacher, “Getting Organized,” 14–15; Hart, interview; Cook, “Seattle Child Care Organizing History”; 2007–2009 Collective Bargaining Agreement by and between State of Washington and Service Employees International Union 925, sent to author by SEIU Local 925, June 6, 2023.

125.

Chalfie, Blank, and Entmacher, “Getting Organized,” 15; 2007–2009 Collective Bargaining Agreement by and between State of Washington and Service Employees International Union 925; Lather-McElligott interview.

126.

Hart interview.

127.

Lather-McElligott interview.

128.

Cook interview.

129.

Lather-McElligott interview.

130.

Kim Cook, “Seattle Child Care Organizing History”; Substitute House Bill 1329, State of Washington, 61st Legislature, 2009 Regular Session, H-2505.1, https://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2009-10/Pdf/Bills/House%20Bills/1329-S.pdf?q=20230407170944 (accessed May 16, 2023).

131.

Substitute House Bill 1329, State of Washington, 4.

132.

Cook interview.

133.

Cook interview.

134.

Lather-McElligott interview.

135.

Cook interview.

136.

Collective Bargaining Agreement, State of Washington and Service Employees International Union 925, 2021–23, https://www.seiu925.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/FCC-CBA-2021-2023-English.pdf (accessed June 13, 2023); Hart interview.

137.

Collective Bargaining Agreement between Child Care Guild of Local 925, Service Employees International Union, and Small Faces Child Development Center, 2021–24, https://www.seiu925.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Small-Faces-Collective-Bargaining-Agreement-Jun-2021-May-31-2024.pdf (accessed June 13, 2023).

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