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The city of Seattle has backed off from a controversial requirement that child-care centers meet with union representatives or lose city funding.

In response to pressure from providers and the threat of a lawsuit, city officials decided to make meetings optional instead of mandatory.

“Providers are no longer required to sign the amendment to the Vendor Services Agreement that was sent on Oct. 16. Since the new policy is voluntary, no providers will be placed on ‘no new enrollment’ status for failing to comply,” city interim Human Services Department Director Catherine Lester wrote in a letter Tuesday.

The Seattle City Council had raised legal questions about the requirement, as well.

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“I think I can speak for a whole lot of child-care providers in saying that we’re thrilled with the change in direction,” said Bob Gilbertson, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Seattle. “The consortium that sort of came together over this issue, it’s consistent with what we had all hoped for.”

The directive said all child-care providers who rely on the city — either for funding or for an agreement that allows them to operate in public schools — must sign a “teacher stabilization agreement” with a union.

Mayor Mike McGinn proposed the change in city policy this fall, amid a re-election campaign backed heavily by the labor organizations that could represent child-care workers. That caused some people to question whether the directive was politically motivated.

His spokesman said this month it wasn’t.

The idea of unionizing child-care workers is not new in Seattle. Supporters say it would stabilize a workforce with high turnover and would improve teacher quality. Improving quality is a big element of the city’s effort to provide universal preschool.

The proposal would not have forced anyone to join a union, but Gilbertson said the mayor’s October directive would have threatened his direct relationship with his employees. And if a newly unionized workforce led to having to pay his employees more, Gilbertson said, he would be forced to pass on the cost to families.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter

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