House committee advances bill limiting Montana labor unions

Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula

(UM Legislative News Service) Lawmakers are considering a bill that would change labor laws in Montana, prohibiting unions from charging non-member public employees union dues.

Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, is sponsoring House Bill 323, which the House Business and Labor Committee advanced to the full House on a 11-8 vote last week.

Tschida referenced the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,  in which the court ruled that employees who are not members of a union, but still benefit from a union’s collective bargaining, cannot be required to pay fees to the union. The bill characterizes forced payment as a violation of First Amendment rights.

“[The bill] restores employee freedom, it does not strike it down,” Tschida said.

Another section of the bill would prohibit unions from having designated registration periods, meaning it would allow a member to join or drop membership any day of the year.

The public hearing for the bill drew one supporter, from the conservative Americans for Prosperity, and 15 opponents.

Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney was first to speak against the bill. He said the state has already made changes to properly address the Janus ruling. He called the bill a threat to workers, saying everyone should pay their fair share for union benefits.

“In summary, this bill just isn’t necessary,” Cooney said.

Eric Feaver, president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, also testified in opposition of the bill. He said the union has not collected any fees from non-members since the high court ruled in June.

Feaver also said that having a one month registration and drop period each year for membership is the best business practice, and essential to the union’s viability.

The bill was voted out of committee and will move to the House floor for further debate.