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Montana AFL-CIO

Montana Employers Testify Against Right to Work

Two of the largest union employers in the state said the law would be bad for their workplaces

Kris LaGrange's picture
Feb 17, 2021

With Republicans completely in charge of the state government in Montana, they have begun pushing a Right to Work bill for private-sector workers. While groups like the National Right to Work Committee and anti-union lobbyists are supporting the bill, unions and some companies are speaking out against it.

At a hearing before the House Business and Labor Committee, union leaders were joined by two of the state’s biggest union employers, NorthWestern Energy, and the Sibanye-Stillwater Mine in south-central Montana. According to their testimony, Northwestern employs 1,500 workers and 644 of them are represented by a union, while Sibanye-Stillwater employs almost 2,000 union employees.

David Hoffman, the Director of NorthWestern’s Government Affairs division, said that the union promotes a culture of safety and hard work.

“Our workers strive to keep your lights on and the gas flowing safely and reliably,” he said. “I can’t think of one example where right-to-work would improve our workforce. As a matter of fact, I think it would create division and resentment within it.”

Heather McDowell, a Vice President at Sibanye-Stillwater, said Right to Work would “impair our collaborative relationship” with their workers. The Montana AFL-CIO’s Al Ekblad also spoke out against the bill saying that union workforces have less turnover and better processes to handle workplace disagreements. He also said that unions finance and run apprenticeships that create skilled, well-paid workforces in the state.

“Workers in Montana are already free to choose if they wish to join a union or not,” he said. “This legislation won’t change that. But what it will do is hurt workers’ ability to advocate for themselves and the good benefits to support their family … This bill is unnecessary and a solution in search of a problem.”

Another union leader, Scott Dunlap who is a trustee for the Steelworkers Local 11-0001, said that he has a lot of conservative members who support their union and are against Right to Work.

“Being able to organize and remain organized is a tool and benefit to many of us conservatives,” Dunlap said. “We just want to be able to get up and be productive. We want to handle our business without help or a handout and raise our families to the best of our ability. … I hope that you will vote in dissent of House Bill 251 and leave us with that tool in the bag so we can proudly raise our families and contribute to our community.”

According to Helenair.com, so many union workers came to testify in opposition to the bill that the committee ran out of time to hear from everyone. Instead, they asked more than two dozen union members to submit their testimony in writing.

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