By Christian M. Wade Statehouse Reporter | July 8, 2019
BOSTON — Fiscal watchdogs are urging Gov. Charlie Baker to veto a labor-friendly proposal aimed at softening the blow of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that curbs the ability of unions to automatically take dues from workers' paychecks.
The measure approved by lawmakers last week would allow unions representing public workers to charge non-members for the costs of representing them in the grievance process. It would also give labor officials access to new hires and non-union members in state and local government to talk with them about joining a union.
Several groups — including the Massachusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance and the Pioneer Institute — are pressuring Baker to veto the proposal. They say it would give labor unions more leverage over state workers and access to personal information, creating myriad privacy issues.
"This will result in an erosion of worker protections," said Chris Carlozzi, the NFIB's Massachusetts director, who wrote to Baker urging him to veto the bill. "We have a lot of concerns, especially about privacy issues."
The measure was approved with support from the Legislature's Republican minority, most of whom voted for the bill after trying unsuccessfully to blunt its impact.
For example, a provision in the Senate's version of the bill offered by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, would have notified public sector workers that they aren't required to join a union. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives stripped that provision before approving a final version of the bill during an informal session last Wednesday.
Tarr said he hopes Baker sends back the proposal to lawmakers with a request to restore that provision, along with other worker protections.
"I'm disappointed," Tarr said Monday. "It was a very simple amendment that required the posting of information to let workers know they have a choice about being in a union or not."
Baker, a Republican who has expressed concerns about privacy aspects of the measure, has until July 13 to sign, veto or send the bill back to lawmakers with proposed changes. Even if he vetoes the proposal, lawmakers have more than enough votes to override him.
The proposal was filed in response to last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling which found government workers can't be forced to contribute to labor unions.
In its ruling, the court sided with Mark Janus, an Illinois child support specialist who does not belong to the union and fought its $45 monthly fee for covering him in contract negotiations. He argued that his money helped finance the union’s political activities, thus violating his free speech rights.
The decision ended a provision in Massachusetts and 21 other states requiring public workers to pay "fair share" fees to unions as a condition of employment, even if they don’t want to be members. The fees are meant to help offset the union's costs of collective bargaining and contract administration that benefit all employees.
Union leaders say the protections are needed to safeguard workers' rights and push back against conservative groups seeking to reduce public sector membership. They say workers who enjoy union benefits, such as legal representation in arbitration hearings, should have to pay something.
Conservative groups say Democrats, and the labor unions that heavily fund their campaigns, are trying to find a way around the court ruling to drum up dues. Organized labor spends millions of dollars lobbying Beacon Hill through political action committees, and most of the money goes to Democrats, according to the Pioneer Institute.
Paul Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said the proposal being weighed by Baker is "a clear infringement of the rights of state workers."
"The legislation goes well beyond the originally stated intent of closing a 'loophole' created by the Janus decision and significantly expands the power of union bosses at the expense of the privacy rights of state employees," said Craney, who suggested that non-union government workers will be "exposed to potential reprisal and intimidation" in the workplace.