By Jim Phillips | June 6th, 2019
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — Labor groups applauded the House's passage Wednesday of a bill allowing unions to charge non-members for costs of services and representation, an action prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year.
In supporting the bill, House members effectively blunted some of the impacts of the court's Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ruling that said public employees who are not members of a union cannot be required to pay fees or dues.
The legislation, approved by a 155-1 vote, would allow unions to seek reimbursement for representation stemming from collective bargaining or for other services that benefit non-members.
"Today the Massachusetts House of Representatives stood up for workers," Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman said in a statement released after the vote. "They stood up for workers and against the right-wing special interests that forced their anti-union views across the country through the misguided and political Janus Supreme Court ruling."
Supporters of the legislation described it as a crucial step in the wake of the court's decision, tying it to what they described as growing efforts to curtail the power of unions and labor organizations. Peter MacKinnon, president of SEIU Local 509, said the House "stood on the right side of history" in its vote.
"But this legislation is just one important step in the fight against anti-worker attacks," he said in a press release. "Even now, the labor movement is facing new legal threats designed to make their way through the courts to drain our resources and weaken our collective power. Our members, our legislators, and our communities must stand united against those that attempt to divide us."
Republican members of the House filed 19 amendments to the bill, most suggesting stricter regulations on what personal information unions can use to contact employees and how that data should be protected. All were either withdrawn before coming up for a vote or rejected.
Despite consistent party support for the amendments, though, virtually every Republican backed the underlying bill. Norfolk Rep. Shawn Dooley was the only vote against final passage.
He told the News Service he supported central components of the bill allowing unions to seek certain payments from non-members — as a firefighter himself, he said, he is "pro-union" — but voted against it over concerns that the legislation allows labor groups to acquire home addresses, personal email addresses and non-work telephone numbers from employees who opt not to join.
"I don't know why they also have to be able to contact them at home in their off hours," Dooley said. "I feel it's a huge invasion of privacy and I think it lends itself to possible workplace bullying in the future."
Others echoed similar concerns, arguing the personal information would be used to pressure employees.
"The union bosses just got the green light to harass and intimidate state workers who are not enrolled in a union," said Paul Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. "They can flex their muscle as much as they want, to the detriment of our state workers, and Massachusetts can thank the 155 House lawmakers who voted for it."
Rep. Paul Brodeur, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, said accusations of privacy infringement were "simply not accurate."
The "status quo" had been for unions to have access to an employee's residential address and an attached landline, but the Melrose Democrat said as technology develops, that "doesn't work anymore."
"That's not the way people communicate in the modern world," Brodeur said. "This is just really, in my opinion, updating it so there are fair access and better communication."
According to House Speaker Robert DeLeo's office, the bill also provides new hires with an opportunity learn about the benefits and services available to them, protects "worker organizations from coordinated outside attacks by empowering them to set policies regarding dues and membership," and enables unions to conduct meetings at scheduled times at the workplace provided they pay for any associated rental or maintenance fees.
Democratic Reps. Patrick Kearney and Harold Naughton and Republican Reps. Nicholas Boldyga and Sheila Harrington did not vote on the bill Wednesday.
The bill now moves to the Senate, which the last session passed its own bill responding to the Janus ruling.