With Missouri, Pennsylvania and other states threatening to go the “Right-to-Work” route this year, Vermont stands out as one of the few states setting the opposite example. With what might be described as an “Anti-Right-to-Work” law, Vermont’s Senate Committee on Economic Development voted 5-0 to introduce a “Fair Share Bill” which would require state workers grandfathered out of paying “agency fees” to do so. Those fees go towards costs associated with negotiating and enforcing contracts as well as representation during grievances. They do not, however, go towards political activities.
The bill, S.14, is aimed at ensuring that all those who receive the benefits of union representation pay their fair share into the bargaining process. According to the Vermont Progressive Party,
S.14 as introduced states, “This bill proposes to require payment of agency fees by teachers, school administrators, and municipal employees who are not members of a labor organization recognized as the exclusive bargaining agent. In addition, it would confirm explicitly that agency fees cannot be used for any purpose other than in connection with collective bargaining.”
Legislation sponsor Sen Philip Baruth told Vermont Public Radio,
“What this bill seeks to say is that no one will be forced to join a union after this bill goes through the process for good or ill. What it will say is that no one from this point forward would be allowed to avoid paying anything into the system,” he said. “If you enjoy the benefits of your union and collective bargaining you will have to pay a percentage of what a fully paid up member of the union would pay.”
“Right-to-Work’ effectively disempowers unions by allowing members to refuse to pay membership while receiving the benefits of union representation. This causes a slow fiscal bleed for unions. Vermont is now looking to prevent this despite not even being remotely close to considering a “Right-to-Work” law.
Before the committee hearing the VSEA sent out a press release to targeted legislators explaining the need for the bill. According to the release,
In 1997, VSEA bargained with the state to collect agency fees from all employees who started working for the state after July 1, 1998. Anyone hired before that date currently does not pay agency fees. Instead, they benefit from the sacrifice of other state workers who pay full member dues or their fair share through agency fee.
It is unfair that any state worker should have to pay dues or agency fee for the services they get from the VSEA while their coworkers and colleagues get the same services for free.
Pre-1998 employees, or grandfathered employees, have enjoyed the benefits of collective bargaining agreements for 15 years. In all but one contract since 1998 (the recent 3% cut that was restored), state employees received pay raises and step benefits. Fifteen years of raises while other members collectively pay for bargaining is long enough.
The Senate has advanced the bill on 26 to 3 vote. Final approval will be voted upon next week.