There are many groups of people seeking to expand the size and scope of government, but here’s one you may not have thought of: the owners of home-based day care.

Now, trade associations of various sorts are nothing new. Witness the Minnesota Association of Realtors, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the League of Minnesota Cities, and so forth.

Recently I learned about an unusual sort of association, or rather, union. It consists of people who provide day care, for pay, in their homes. Now, you might think of them as small-business owners, and that is in fact what they are. Yet AFSCME, the union that organizes local-government employees, has entered the day-care business through something called Child Care Providers Together. CCPT, as it is sometimes called, is in 12 other states, including Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan. More on Michigan in a minute.

CCPT-Minnesota has a foothold in 50 Minnesota counties, including Hennepin, Ramsey, St. Louis, Washington. It says “Our main goals are supporting child care providers, strengthening partnerships with other child care field agencies, and promoting professionalism and quality in caring for children.” That sounds fine, especially the part about professionalism, and who can object to “quality in caring for children?”

Yet unions represent “labor,” and if day-care owners are labor, who is management? You, the taxpayer. That’s because the state subsidizes childcare services for thousands of Minnesota families. Like any union, CCPT-Minnesota aims to increase the pay it gets, including pay from government welfare programs.

This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Democracy thrives on the hurly-burly of different interests pursuing their interests in the legislative arena. Unfortunately, the more government gets involved–in this case, in subsidizing childcare–the more it invites more political posturing. In other words, government growth is a positive feedback loop.

CCPT-Minnesota’s vision statement says that one of its goals is to “Improve government efficiency and accountability. Early Childhood Services have no single point of entry entry or accountability.” No single point of entry or accountability? That sounds like a bad thing, but I’m grateful for that! The lives of children are too important to be left to the mercies of a centralized bureaucracy.

Read through the website and you’ll find just what you’d expect: Calls for higher taxes on “the rich” to pay for higher subsidized pay for day-care providers and legislative action to make it easier for people to get subsidies for child care. In other words, expand the size and scope of government, while expanding the incomes of people who depend on government for their incomes. The positive feedback loop.

To be fair, the union does talk the talk about professional development. But if you’re looking for increased effectiveness in any industry, the last place I would look is a union, especially one that demands that taxpayer gives it “economic justice.”

As far as I can tell, the union depends on dues voluntarily contributed by day-care owners, on a case-by-case basis. Yet one of CCPT-MN’s brethren, CCPT-Michigan, conducted a campaign, recently thwarted, to live off of involuntary contributions.

Here’s how it happened: In 2006, a state department used a community college to set up a paper organization to serve as an employer of day-care owners. Which owners? Anyone with clients who receive childcare subsidies from the state. The shell organization, in turn, skimmed off money due to day-care providers and sent it to CCPT-Michigan, which of course could use it for political purposes.

Boosting union power? Mission accomplished.

Naturally some day-care owners weren’t happy when they found out this was going on, and with the help of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, filed suit. The suits were not successful in overturning this money grab. But the second-best thing happened recently: Under the direction of the state’s new governor, the Michigan Department of Human Services put an end to the practice. That’s all well and good for the day-care business owners, though it’s unfortunate that their relief had to wait until a change in administration. Some day-care owners are still pursuing legal action, seeking a return of the dues involuntarily taken from them.

Anytime government becomes the primary payer of a service (K-12 education, health care), the amount of government control is bound to increase, and in the case of education, so will unionization. The market for daycare services is still fragmented enough for it to escape the complete grasp of the state (daycare owners must still face a fair number of regulations). The UAW, which was a factor in CCPT-Michigan, is a marginal factor in Minnesota, unlike Michigan, where the saying goes “the Democratic Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the UAW.” So Minnesota’s home-based childcare providers don’t have to worry, just yet, about being hustled into a union they don’t want.