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Montana Considers Right to Work Bill

Right to Work is just one of the anti-union bills making its way through the legislature

Brian Young's picture
Feb 09, 2021

For the first time in almost two decades, Republicans have gained control of the Governor’s office in Montana. With control of the Governor's office and control of the legislature, they have decided to take up a bill that would make the state Right to Work.

Montana actually has a strong union movement even though they are surrounded by Right to Work states and are traditionally a Republican stronghold. About 12% of the workforce is in a union or about 50,000 of the 419,000 workers in the state. According to the Montana Free Press, about 27,000 of those union members work in the private sector and would be affected by a Right to Work law.

The bill is being introduced by Rep. Caleb Hinkle (R-Belgrade). His bill is paired with two other bills that would restrict how public employee unions collect dues, manage their membership, and how they represent healthcare workers. Hinkle’s bill, HB 251, would say that no worker in Montana could be required to pay union dues as a condition of employment and that unions wouldn’t be allowed to collect fair share fees from non-members, even if this provision was included in their collective bargaining agreement. This bill will have a hearing on February 16th.

Another bill in the Statehouse, HB 168, would require that employees consent yearly to have their dues taken from their paycheck and would allow them to opt-out at any time. A draft bill in the House would also prevent unions from collecting fees from employees at a non-profit health care corporation without the employees’ consent.

Finally, a bill in the Senate would prohibit government employers from having a payroll checkoff that allows the employer to collect union dues directly from the employees’ paycheck. This Senate bill passed a Senate committee last week.

“They’re mad at us because we’re strong,” said Amanda Curtis, the President of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, the state’s largest union. “I think there’s a more extreme faction of the Republican Party that has a philosophy of smaller government, under any circumstances. … We represent the government to them.”

In addition to Hinkle’s efforts, the Montana Citizens for Right to Work recently sent out a mailer saying, “Right to Work Within Reach.” The mailer looked almost identical to the one that the New England Citizens for Right to Work sent out in January. UCOMM previously reported that New Hampshire is also considering a Right to Work bill after Republicans took over control of the state.

The Montana AFL-CIO has been mobilizing members in the state against the Right to Work bill as well as the other anti-union bills. They point out that wages are lower in Right to Work states and that there are fewer benefits.

“Right to work doesn’t just hurt union workers,” said Al Ekbald the Executive Secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO. “It hurts workers across the board. Multiple [right-to-work] states have seen dramatic drop-offs in wages and benefits. The wages and benefits of that mine coming online, of those plants coming online — that has driven the wages and benefits across all the mines in Montana. What happens if they don’t match those wages, in a non-union shop? These are very mobile workers. I know people that are driving and doing their turnarounds in Colstrip from Great Falls [a five-hour drive] because the wages and benefits are so good at the mine.”

Unions are hopeful that they can beat back this latest attempt to bring Right to Work to the state. Since 2007, there have been six attempts to pass some version of Right to Work. Five of these bills were voted down in the legislature, and one was vetoed by the Governor. Curtis and other union officials told the Missoula Current that they hope a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans will stop the bill in the legislature.

A wild card in the entire process is Republican Governor Greg Gianforte. He has not publicly come out on whether he supports Right to Work only saying that it is not one of his priorities.

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