Who’s on first?

The Billings Gazette, Lee Enterprise’s Montana flagship newspaper, just dropped trowel and it ain’t pretty.  For one thing, the grand old “rag” is showing her age and let’s face it who really wants to read a newspaper that isn’t “high and tight”.  Her only claim to fame is being the daily with the most-est not the best-est.

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The editorial board’s op-ed “Union membership bill would make unions prove their worth to members” demonstrates a glaring lack of research and basic understanding of public employee unions and how they have operated in Montana SINCE THE 1930s!  Instead, they trot out the tried, true, tired old saw that Representative Brad Tschida’s HB 323 is nothing more than a guarantee of the first amendment rights of the oppressed public employee union member.  In this case, the first amendment right of public sector workers to “opt-in” or “opt-out” of a union as they so chose.  Well duh!

With the SCOTUS 5-4 decision in favor of Mark Janus, free speech was upheld and public sector unions could no longer charge a representation fee as a condition of employment.  WINNER!  And now the age old mystery of “who’s on first” is answered – the 1st Amendment.  It’s good to be number 1.  But there are two more bases to cover before home plate.  Representative Tschida and the editorial board of the Gazette believe they know “what’s” on second.  It has to do with a public sector employee’s right to join or drop union membership at anytime.  Failure to allow this on the part of unions…wait for it…violates their right to free speech.  The hell you say!

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However, Tschida’s bill doesn’t guarantee anyone’s right to opt-in, they already have that right as well as the right to opt-out.  In Montana they had that right before Janus and now in the post-Janus world it is reaffirmed that public employees cannot be coerced into paying union dues or a representation fee as a condition of employment.  Now granted the whole representation fee precedent established by SCOTUS way back in 1977 clouded that somewhat but since Janus those who were “bullied” into union membership have been “free at last, free at last, thank Mark Janus, free at last!”

Representative Tschida and the Gazette both believe “unions [should] have to convince members that there’s enough value in the union membership to warrant the dues”.  In other words while they can already opt-in at will, members should have the right to opt-out at will too.  This suggests that they don’t but, given the testimony of Eric Feaver, president of MFPE, and Timm Twardoski, executive director of AFSCME Council 9, anyone can resign their union membership as long as they do it during the prescribed membership withdrawal period.  In other words as Twardoski pointed out, an employee can’t join during local contract negotiations so they have a seat at the table and then resign that membership as soon as bargaining is complete.  Or as the rotund labor boss put it “if you join the gym to lose 50 pounds don’t you think you ought to join for at least a year if you want to lose the pounds?”

Now neither Representative Tschida nor the Gazette say you have to give up your union card; they’re not even saying you can’t have a union card; they just don’t want to see your union card at work.  No silly!  I don’t mean in your wallet at work I mean “at work” on your behalf at work.   

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To be perfectly honest, this post does little more than muddy up the already murky waters of union membership, especially public employee union membership.  So as you read op-eds like the Gazette’s and blog posts such as this keep in mind that it can be quite tiring and if need be, you might be compelled to “take a knee” as you ponder the pros and cons, but don’t kneel too long in quiet reflection or someone may trample your first amendment right to free speech!

T-Bone Slim – “Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”

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