Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Right-to-Work legislation fizzles in committee

HELENA – Labor leaders and union members turned out in numbers Tuesday to oppose legislation that would allow Montana workers to choose whether to belong to a union.

When all was said and done, the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee voted 7-4 to table Senate Bill 339, sponsored by Sen. Greg Hinkle, R-Thompson Falls (pictured).

Also called the Right to Work Act, the bill would repeal compulsory union membership in Montana. Supporters told lawmakers Montanans should have a right to decide where their money goes and should not have to pay mandatory union fees as a job requirement.

“It’s not a knock against the union,” said Daniel Kenney, a state employee. “Everybody has a right as an individual to choose whether or not to join a union.”

Other supporters told legislators that mandatory union dues hurt Montanans during tight economic times. Anthony Smith, a masonry business owner from Bozeman, said he started his own business because the union did not represent him well, even though he was paying dues.

But labor leaders said the bill would weaken unions and threaten Montana’s economy.

“Collective bargaining is our means of communication for our work privileges,” said Jim McGarvey of the Montana AFL-CIO. McGarvey said collective bargaining gives union workers in Montana better health insurance benefits and wages than non-union workers.

Evan Barrett, one of the governor's advisers on business issues, said mandatory union membership has not harmed Montana's economy.

“There is no reality to the concept that this is a big interest of the businesses that seek to locate in Montana,” Barrett said.

Other unions that opposed the bill included the Montana Educators Association/Montana Federation of Teachers, International Brotherhood of Electric Workers, the State Building Trades Association, the Montana Association of Plumbers and Pipe-fitters, the Teamsters, the Carpenters Union and the Montana State Fireman’s Association.

“Right to Work” bills have been introduced unsuccessfully in many Montana legislative sessions. Last session’s bill died in committee.

-by CNS correspondent Molly Priddy

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