HELENA — Hundreds of union members filled the House gallery and the first floor of the Capitol Tuesday in a show of force to oppose a bill that set out to make Montana a “right-to-work” state.
House Bill 251, sponsored by Rep. Caleb Hinkle, R-Belgrade, would have allowed workers to opt out of paying union dues if they do not want to be part of the union. The bill failed on a 38-62 vote.
Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, spoke in opposition to the bill.
“Frankly, I’m gobsmacked that anyone who values our heritage … that they can not fight tooth and nail for unions,” Funk said.
Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, spoke in support of the aim of the bill, but in the end, he joined 28 other Republicans in voting against it.
“There is no war on jobs. I saw a sign in the hall that said that,” Tschida said. “That’s not what this is about. This is about giving choice to people.”
Lawmakers who supported the bill said by forcing unions to compete for dues, they will be forced to provide a better service for their members. They pointed to how public employee unions have operated after the Supreme Court decision Janus v. AFSCME, which prohibits public unions from collecting dues from employees that aren’t part of the union to fund collective bargaining done for those employees.
The Supreme Court determined public employee unions are engaged in political speech by negotiating with government organizations and therefore, forcing employees to pay dues would be considered forced speech, a violation of the First Amendment.
The committee hearing on HB 251 on Feb. 16 drew a crowd of union members opposed to the bill, but also garnered testimony from groups supporting the bill.
“Without right-to-work protections there is little incentive for union officials to offer good service to their members because they can compel people to pay them either way,” Randy Pope, the executive director of Montana Citizens for Right to Work said at the hearing.
If the bill had passed, Montana would have joined 27 other states with right-to-work laws.
James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.