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Bill Draws Widespread Opposition From Labor Unions

Republican Rep. Bill Mercer of Billings introduces House Bill 168 to the Montana House Business and Labor Committee on Jan. 22, 2021.
Republican Rep. Bill Mercer of Billings introduces House Bill 168 to the Montana House Business and Labor Committee on Jan. 22, 2021.

A Montana lawmaker introduced a bill Friday that would require public employees to opt in to paying dues to labor unions every year. Union leaders are opposing the proposal.

The bill brought by Republican Rep. Bill Mercer of Billings follows a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2018 in which the justices ruled that public employees don’t have to pay dues to unions that collectively bargain on worker’s behalf.

House Bill 168 would also require public employers annually to remind workers they are not required to associate with labor organizations and to receive annual signed consent from employees that the employer can deduct union dues from their paycheck. Mercer said that’s required under his interpretation of the court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME.

“I think it’s the only way to ensure that the people that are working for state and local government have clarity," he said.

Amanda Curtis disagreed that the ruling requires these changes. She’s president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, which represents more than 25,000 city, county and state workers across education, corrections and other fields. That includes some employees of Yellowstone Public Radio, which is operated by Montana State University-Billings.

The federation requires members to consent to paycheck deductions on its membership form, but not yearly. Testifying during Friday’s hearing, Curtis said a Montana district court issued a preliminary injunction following the federal ruling saying employers aren’t required to provide additional consent forms to workers, as Mercer believes.

Curtis said House Bill 168’s proposed shift in the dynamic between public workers and their employers—allowing non union members to bargain with public employers—could impact workplace condition and grievance negotiations.

“Right now the employer and the union have a collaborative relationship in solving those together. It’s very clear,” she said.

Local and statewide public and private union members testified in opposition to the bill. It had one supporter Friday from conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity Montana.

The House Business and Labor Committee hasn’t scheduled a vote on House Bill 168 yet.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio

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