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Minnesota child-care providers have overwhelmingly voted against unionizing, likely ending a debate that has been emotionally charged and politically divisive for a decade.

The fight pitted some child-care workers against others and sharply divided legislators along party lines when they passed a law in 2013 that would allow the vote to unionize.

By the time the votes were tallied Tuesday, the lopsided results dealt a decisive loss to labor: 1,014 "no" votes to 392 who favored unionization. Although there are about 10,000 licensed child-care providers in the state, only those who care for children receiving state subsidies were eligible to vote. That meant 2,348 providers were eligible when voting began Feb. 8.

Unionization opponents were quick to revel in the win.

AFSCME organizers declined interviews on Tuesday but issued a statement saying they were disappointed, but that they wouldn't pursue another union election before the law expires in 2017.

Even as child-care providers began casting ballots last month, the political rancor continued. Senate Republicans and some child-care providers demanded that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton halt the vote, arguing that some providers had been improperly excluded from voting.

Dayton dismissed the complaints. "Why not let there be an election, and why not let the workers decide for themselves? That to me is the American way to proceed," he said.

The vote strongly rejected Dayton's attempt to "force unionization" on small businesses, said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie..

"This vote should be the final word on Dayton's shameful effort to pay back the AFSCME union for their early support of his campaign for governor," he said. "Senate Republicans will now push to have the law repealed."

Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester child-care provider and a leader of the Coalition of Union Free Providers, said the results of the vote weren't surprising.

"We know that over the 10 years that we've been working on this that child-care providers are hands down overwhelmingly opposed to this. They were waiting by their mailboxes just so they could have an opportunity to vote no," she said. "Family child-care providers are small business owners. … We set our own rates, we create our own working conditions — all the things that unions typically negotiate for, we determine for ourselves."

The union would have negotiated public policy issues that "we can work for through our associations without having to pay high union dues," she said.

Not all views in tandem

If the vote to unionize had succeeded, child-care providers who receive state money to care for children under the Child Care Assistance Program would have joined AFSCME, a major public employee union and a strong backer of DFL candidates and causes.

Parrish said she didn't like the idea that the union would have had the "exclusive right to be her representative."

Some of the things that AFSCME backs are contrary to what she supports, including universal preschool that would put child-care providers out of business, she said.

AFSCME responds

In a statement, Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, said "AFSCME honors the mighty women who care for Minnesota's poorest children. We value their hard work and will continue to advocate for quality child care that working parents can afford. … We thank Democratic leaders who affirmed the child-care providers' right to vote for a union."

In 2014, Minnesota home-care workers voted to join the Service Employees International Union. It was the culmination of one of the most sweeping union expansion efforts in state history and represented a victory for Dayton and the then-DFL-controlled Legislature.

Aaron Sojourner, a labor economist with the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, said Tuesday's loss for AFSCME stands in "stark contrast" to the home-care worker vote.

"This touches on some of the changes in the economy. You see more people seeing themselves as independent businesses," he said. "We have fewer manufacturing workers and what we have more of is people providing care to one another — that's health care, child care, Uber. … There's this growing breakdown of this traditional employment and traditional union."

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788