Forced labor: H.239

by Angela Chagnon

Labor unions will be happy to hear about H.239 a bill sponsored by Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) and currently in committee. The bill is titled, “An act relating to public sector fair share agency fees. Its purpose reads:

“This bill proposes to require that employees in bargaining units organized under state law who do not join the labor organization representing the unit pay a fair share agency fee.”

And what is an “agency fee”?

“Agency service fee” means a fee for representation in collective bargaining not exceeding labor organization dues, payable to a labor organization which is the exclusive representative for employees in a bargaining unit from individuals who are not members of the labor organization.”

Although this bill generously acknowledges that people are free to choose whether to join a union or not, H.239 will force non-union employees to pay the “agency service fee” to that union regardless of their choice. The law would create a new state policy that reads:

“It is the policy of the state of Vermont that employees in bargaining units organized under state law who exercise their rights not to join a labor organization required to provide them certain services shall pay to that labor organization a fair share agency fee, representing that portion of the labor organization’s membership fees which are attributable to those services.”

Would the state determine the extortion–oops–“agency fee” amount for non-union employees?

“Current labor law in Vermont leaves the question of a fair share agency fee to the collective bargaining process itself.”

Okay. The union will decide what it will charge its non-members. But why should public sector employees be forced to pay membership fees to an organization that they are not a member of? According to the bill:

“Over the past century, the term “free riding” has come to describe the employees of bargaining units organized under state law who do not become members of the labor organization representing the bargaining unit.”

It sounds like the bill’s framer is accusing non-unionized employees of being freeloaders. However, non-unionized employees don’t get the same sweet deals that union members do. The AFL-CIO’s own website shows the disparity between union and non-union workers. So, if this bill becomes law, not only will non-union workers continue to get smaller paychecks than their union counterparts, but they will have to fork over part of that paycheck to a union they are not a member of so that the union can continue to fatten union members’ paychecks and benefit packages.

(For a good example of the kind of representation non-union workers can expect get for their “contributions” to the union’s coffers, check out this story about the Champlain Bridge debacle last year.)

H.239 would amend 3 V.S.A. section 1012 to read:

“(c) An employee who exercises the right not to join the employee organization representing the employee’s certified unit pursuant to section 1021 of this title shall pay a collective bargaining fee to the representative of the bargaining unit in the same manner as employees who pay membership fees to the representative.” (Emphasis added)

Non-union teachers would also be forced to pay union dues under this law.

“Sec. 5. 16 V.S.A. § 1982 is amended to read: § 1982. RIGHTS

(a) Teachers shall have the right to or not to join, assist, or participate in any teachers’ organization of their choosing. However, teachers who choose not to join the teachers’ organization recognized pursuant to an agreement negotiated under section 1992 of this chapter as exclusive representative, shall pay an agency fee in the same manner as teachers who choose to join the teachers’ organization pay membership fees.” (Emphasis added)

Furthermore, according to H.239, any non-union administrator, other than the school superintendent and assistant superintendent, must pay the union fee.

The definition of “choice”, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica 2008:

“…in philosophy, a corollary of the proposition of free will-i.e., the ability voluntarily to decide to perform one of several possible acts or to avoid action entirely.”

It seems like the bill’s authors have confused “choice” with “compel”:

“Compel: to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure and esp. by authority or law”. (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law [1996])


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