HELENA — Republicans on a House committee Friday voted to send to the floor a bill that would make Montana a “right to work” state – which means labor unions would be barred from collecting fees from non-members they represent in the workplace.
The House Business and Labor Committee voted 11-9 to move House Bill 251 to the full House for debate and a vote, likely on Monday. All eight Democrats on the panel and one Republican – Rep. Fred Anderson of Great Falls – voted against it.
Several Republicans on the committee said they voted to advance the bill because Montanans deserve to have the contentious issue debated before the full House. “There’s only 20 of us in this committee, so I don’t think we can make that decision (to kill the bill),” said Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby.
Rep. Derek Harvey, D-Butte, urged the panel to kill the measure, noting that scores of union members from across the state had traveled to Helena to testify against it, arguing that it undercuts benefits and organizing rights that unions have fought for. “Literal blood was shed on the streets of Butte for these rights that this bill is seeking to strip away,” he said. “It’s outrageous that this bill has made it this far through the process.”
HB251, sponsored by Rep. Caleb Hinkle, R-Belgrade, would forbid any Montana employer from making union membership a condition of employment – and, prohibit labor unions in the private sector from collecting fees from non-members who are covered by a union contract.
The latter ban already exists for public-sector workers and unions.
Labor unions strongly oppose so-called “right to work” laws, saying their main purpose is to undermine the power of labor to organize workers. They’ve also argued that right-to-work laws generally lead to lower wages and worse working conditions.
Twenty-seven states have right-to-work laws, including the four states bordering Montana.
Supporters of SB251 said a right-to-work designation would make Montana more attractive to businesses and have been shown to increase wages for workers.
HB251 is one of several bills before the 2021 Legislature to restrict labor unions’ ability to collect dues or interact with members and non-members alike. So far, most of the other bills have been killed or otherwise stalled.