This Ain’t a Business

This is going to be tough for even his supporters to swallow, but Greg Gianforte just grew government and increased spending. Wait, what? Yep, he just increased pay to his highest positions, all of which are appointed by him. Sounds like a great deal for his buddies, particularly his male buddies since the male appointees will see far greater increases than their female counter parts. But how can this be? He swore to make state government more efficient and would be sure it would live within it’s means. And yet Gianforte has increased by almost 50% the pay of his unproven director and unconfirmed director of DPHHS, Adam Meier.


“For too long, state spending has grown out of control as taxpayers send more money to Helena. Its appetite has been insatiable,” Gianforte said. And yet, that appetite has now grown and will need to be fed. Historically, agency director pay has hovered just below an annual salary of $100,000 plus benefits. Make no mistake, these are hard and demanding jobs that require and understanding of the agency mission, the ability to work with multiple stakeholders at once, a sense of the political process, the ability not to do and say stupid things and most importantly, that by accepting an appointment you are accepting the job as a public servant for the good of the public. The job is absolutely not about compensation. That has always been the case in Montana until today. Well, that’s not entirely true. Right after being elected ol’ Money Bags Gianforte started asking around at the Department of Administration if agency directors could take a stipend for their work and continue to collect a corporate salary at the same time. Nothing fishy there at all.

Gianforte has been known to say that he believes in paying employees. Fair enough something a lot of employers like to say until they understand what exactly it takes to pay employees. In this case he’s taken care of 12 of his some 12,000 state employees with increases anywhere from 5% to 46%. As for the his other 11,988 employees, the MFPE ,and AFSCME negotiated pay plan in HB 13 made it out of committee last week which will give that much larger group a whopping $.55 an hour increase in 2022. Never mind the historically underfunded state employee pay plan that is administered on flawed methodology. But yes, you read that right, they will all take a pay freeze this year and gain a total of $1,144 annually before taxes. Meanwhile over at DPHHS, the director hasn’t even found the Overland Express yet and he’s raking in an additional $50,000 year before the Montana Senate even says he gets to put his name on the door.


Maybe this isn’t as bad as it really seems after all. Gianforte has already announced he won’t be using the state plane for his travel at a savings of $320,000 annually. Surely that will pay for the raises to his cronies, of course he laid off the state pilot but you gotta cut somewhere. Further savings for travel will come when they all pile on his private jet for a joyride.


‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

It’s Right To Work Day…Again

Yep, that’s right. It’s legislative day 16 and Montana’s unions will face a second anti union bill in the afternoon. Queuing up today is Senate Bill 89 sponsored by union hater Keith Reiger as part of his long game of killing labor in Montana. Just four days ago Bill Mercer had his time in committee to present his poorly written and baseless bill which he believes fully implements the Janus decision based on AG opinions in three out of fifty states. Bill must have a very low bar if that’s what he believes sets a standard, or maybe it’s really Billings that has the low bar if he’s what they send to represent them.

For the last few decades organized labor in Montana has had it pretty easy in terms of union busting legislation. Schweitzer and Bullock committed to oppose any right to work legislation with a simple ‘of course’ and in fact Bullock took it so far that he refused to sign a bill in his last session that would have simply codified the Janus in Montana law. The union bosses asked him to sign off on HB 323, but there was drama to be had by not signing, so he didn’t and here we are today. While it wouldn’t have prevented the onslaught by the Reiger clan, it certainly would have eliminated one point of contention and confusion. In the end, the favor really wasn’t a favor.


Back to those years gone by. Union leaders, and by default, union members, had little to worry about when it came to union hating legislators because there was either a veto pen waiting at the end of the trail as the ultimate threat or a bill simply would never make it out of the committee room for the floor or either chamber. From day one of this session that has not been the case. While those solutions republicans have valued their union relationships, they can only hit the red button so many times before finding themselves in someone’s crosshairs. It’s all fair game and anyone’s guess as to which bill lands on the governor’s desk for signature. Given that Mr. Burns, errr, Governor Gianforte, has never met with any labor union to answer questions about his position on right to work, it’s all a guess if he signs or not. While he did recently take the opportunity to call out his support for workers in his statement on the keystone pipeline, he, of course, stopped short on recognizing the union jobs therein.

So later today all those union leaders will line up again, but this time to a very different approach. The word is that Reiger doesn’t like union dues being spent on politicians like himself. He’s right and he’s wrong, of course. He’s right in that union dues do get spent on him or rather against him. Like any entity that operates in the political world, unions have the right to communicate with their members and in this particular case they did. Reiger is not on the ‘vote for’ list and for obvious reasons. And of course he is wrong, unions cannot directly contribute to a political campaign unless they use funds voluntarily donated by members for that specific purpose. Fine lines right? No matter to the Reiger clan because the only good union, is a dead union.

While his legislation doesn’t directly kill the operation of a union, it definitely allows the bao constrictor to make one more coil to slowly choke the life out of Montana’s public employee unions. The Montana AFL-CIO boasts a membership of 45,000 working Montana members in it’s ranks with about 35,000 of those dues payers being in the public sector. If Reiger and his ilk can kill the MFPE and others with his bad bill, he won’t have to work on the private sector unions, they’ll die of starvation in the end. Remember sisters and brothers, an injury to one is an injury to all.



‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

Son of Senate Bill 89

If you thought a Republican controlled House, Senate and Governor’s office would only bring you one Right To Work bill in their first shot at destroying unions in decades, you are, well, you are all hopped up on goofballs. A week ago Keith Reiger opened the crypt door on SB 89 and in doing so, roused organized labor in Montana from their post election daze. Enter House Bill 168. Billings Representative Bill Mercer is working up his own anti labor bill to work towards crippling Montana’s public employees and their unions. If you read both bills you have to wonder if these guys talk to each other and coordinate strategies, then again, maybe they do and maybe they are.


What’s the difference between 168 and 89? Mercer isn’t outlawing the collection of union dues by a public employer. However, he does put a whole bunch of odd parameters on the process that will, quite honestly, grow government at every level. For the most part, 168 puts into Montana law the Janus ruling and references an employee’s 1st Amendment right to free speech, a right that an ’employee’ ironically now shares with corporations. Taking Janus one step farther, the bill puts the obligation of dues authorization on the employer rather than continuing with the current standard that membership and dues is between a member and their union. So how does he grow government? Well some poor payroll technician is going to have to get a physically signed document each year to authorize dues for the coming year along with the reading of statement of waiving the above mentioned constitutional right. Perhaps after signing, pledging and crossing their hearts, union members could also dip their thumb in red ink as proof that want to be part of the union. Mercer’s bill also allows union members to withdraw membership at any time, more work for management.

Today, and even after Janus and despite much posturing by anti union politicians like Mercer and Reiger, unions have legally kept the right to set a membership period, set a time frame when members can decide they don’t want to pay and become a freeloader, and continue to own the right to the membership conversation. Unions have continued to view the issue of membership as one where members must assert their desire to get the milk for free, much like that analogy of a gym membership. If you want to get fat, you have to quit the gym membership. Maybe these guys could drum up a bill for that too.

What else does his bill do? It opens the door for litigation at every level of government in Montana. Some poor hourly employee (who gets pay raises and improved benefits because the union bargains it for their members and a public employer is going to give what the union gets to everyone) will have to have a conversation about the union with it’s members every single year. That conversation will surely involve questions like ‘why should I belong to the union’ and depending on the answer, could in turn be the basis of an unfair labor practice filed by the union for interfering with the union’s right to do business. At least lawyers like Mercer will make money off this deal.

Now a little about Mercer. He too belly’s up to that state health insurance trough and even better, makes his living off suing both the state and federal government. Seems a little duplicitous doesn’t it? Then again, what did you expect?

So, do you pick 168 or 89? Or better than having to make a decision and given the true roots of Right To Work, could someone plug these numbers into a Mercer-Reiger-QAnon conspiracy number generator and let us know if all these right to work bills really just give us the longitude and latitude of the next Montana Ku Klux Klan meeting? No hoods or masks required, Swastikas optional.



‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

How Do You Kill The Union?

Go ask Keith Reiger, he’s got a few ideas. Well, he’s been handed a few ideas, because he’s just not smart enough to write this bill on his own. Late Friday afternoon Senate Bill 89 was introduced on first reading. As of yet there is no committee assigned but the rumors are flying and the talk is that this garbage gets a hearing soon. Or mabye it dangles out there a while so those union bosses can wring their hands to the bone.

What does a bill with a short title ‘Revise laws related to the collection of union dues’ actually accomplish? In short it outlaws an employer’s right to automatically deduct funds from an employee’s pay through payroll deduction. In this case, that outlawed deduction is for union dues that the employee pays to be a member of the union. By no means should this be confused with the idea that they are obligated to join the union or be fired. Those days have been gone since the spring of 2018 when the Supreme Court of the United States ran a sharp blade through the fat stomach of public employee unions and ended representation fee with the Janus decision. Ironically, those same unions were granted a short reprieve when Justice Scalia miraculously died in early 2016. The big bosses drew a sigh of relief and bet the farm on Hillary Clinton to win the presidential election. There is no need to explain what happened from there.


Back to the 67th Montana Legislature. Reiger’s bill does a lot of damage to public employee unions in just three pages. To make a long blog post longer, it allows union members to withdraw membership at any time rather than in the prescribed ‘window’ that unions are currently allowed to set. Ol’ Keith apperently can’t wait until the next SCOTUS case related to public employee unions and may not get his wish anyway given the changes to Congress and POTUS.

Next, he strikes long established law which encourages the practice of arriving at ‘friendly adjustments’ to end labor disputes and no longer acknowledges the idea that labor and management can solve problems for the good of all involved. That’s right folks, you have just traveled back to the 1960s where the Reiger family wants your wages, employment and reproductive rights.

Then comes the big hit for labor organizations in Montana, a prohibition of payroll deduction- more on this in a bit. But wait, there’s more! He allows the employer to voluntarily bargain with the union, if it can survive, and then cut sweet deals with it’s non members in hopes of convincing dues payers to give it up and let the union go because the employer is always benevolent. Get ready Montana unions, the MFPE, AFSCME, Teamsters and the AFL-CIO in particular, if this Hades’ Bident gets thrown there will be blood.

Now back to that dues deduction thing, because that was the short title of the bill before Reiger loaded it up with plenty of sharp points. Back in the ‘old days’ dues were collected at the union hall for trades unions and for public employee unions like teachers, members willingly paid up each month to the local treasurer and funds eventually found their way to the parent union. When the collective bargaining act passed in Montana two things happened to pave the road for unions: join as a member, pay a representation fee or go work somewhere else; and payroll deduction for dues. A captive audience and the employer to act as the dues collector and even better, to write the check to the union. A damn good stroke of business!

On its face, the bill is clearly prejudicial in singling out unions to be outlawed from payroll deduction. There’s a long, long list of deductions public employers will allow for their employees with union dues being just one. There are also plenty of ‘advocate’ organizations that fill their bank accounts with ‘dues’ collected through payroll deduction so they can belly up to the public trough for their members. How about a sample list? The Montana Troopers Association, Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the Montana Police Protective Association and the Montana Game Wardens Association. No doubt there are more, but everyone wants to ‘Back the Blue’ and Reiger’s bill does not exclude cops or firefighters. All of the above mentioned groups collect fees through payroll deduction and then hire lobbyists to work on pensions and benefits for their members. Very much like a union, but not as ‘dirty’.

One last point that absolutely must be made. Keith is a retired teacher and collects a monthly check from the Teachers Retirement System. No doubt he earned that benefit, but where did it come from? Unions. Unions demanded retirement benefits for their members and have worked hard to improve those retirement benefits so that members could actually enjoy those golden years as comfortably as possible. Keith also has employer paid health insurance, of course his employer is the State of Montana as a sitting legislator. He’s been slurping up that public dollar slop on a monthly basis since 2009. That’s right, he’s been enjoying a union negotiated benefit for state employees for twelve years now. If you’re struggling to find a word for him, the one you’re looking for is ‘hypocrite’.

So how do you kill the union? Sad news Keith, you don’t. You can do everything in your power to break and bankrupt the union now that you have the Governor’s office and hope he’ll sign your batshit crazy bills. But you don’t kill the union because the union is a spirit and a will to make life better for yourself, your family and your community. The union is the pathway to the future of your children and their children to come. The union is the guardian of the downtrodden and the disadvantaged to prevent their exploitation. Senator Reiger, the union was here long before you and will be here long after you find yourself in a hot place shoveling coal into an unexpected furnace when you’re gone.


‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

To Mask or Not To Mask

In his first Covid press conference, Governor Greg Gianforte announced that he would soon be lifting the mask mandate, but in the meantime he would continue to wear a mask out of respect for others and encouraged everyone to wear a mask. Wonderful idea and wouldn’t it be great if his own party followed that that suggestion?

On that mask and respect thing, they aren’t and they won’t. In fact, they’ve even gone so far as to shame anyone wearing a mask. To say it’s disturbing to see the young and old white guys like Jeremy Trebas and David Howard picking on a widowed retiree is the current understatement of the session. Classic tough guys who probably experienced too many wedgies in middle school.

So let’s see it GOP (Grumpy Old People), how about that respect and consideration? Can the citizens of Montana count on you to follow the de facto head of your party, Greg Gianforte, or will you breath and cough in his face and then bully him about being weak and afraid too?


‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

Something Wicked This Way Comes

It always seems that the first Sunday of January every other year blows a storm in for at least part of the day. Dust and dirt fly, trash rolls down streets, discarded Christmas trees pile up at the end of alleys and from the four cardinal points come some 150 guests who will call Helena home for the next four months. Some first timers come filled with naïve good intentions, then there are the second and third termers who understand the game and their small role, and last but by no means least, senators turned representatives and vice versa who do their damnedest to keep the session on the rails to the bitter end. All well and good in predictable times, but we haven’t felt that sense of comfort in a while.

Despite a global pandemic, despite science, and despite technology that can allow a legislative session to move forward while protecting everyone involved, the Capital doors will open. And yet no one knows the plan, mostly because there really isn’t one. Montana’s new governor has raised his hand and taken his oath in a very small ceremony and then insist that the show must go on. Pay no attention to the fact that former Congressman Gianforte has already been vaccinated. Then again, as the wealthiest man to have ever bought a Montana election, he certainly could have just paid his way to the front of the line.

But the rumor is that he actually has a plan. Gianforte has openly talked about taking front line vaccines and giving every legislator a dose in the arm so they are safe to go on about their business and getting those 3000 bill drafts out for a hearing. But think about this. Much mockery has already been made of senators and representatives on the national scene who have made so much noise about the hoax that is the virus, or bullied citizens living in fear, or think that frontline workers who are too exhausted to go on just aren’t dedicated enough. But now it’s Montana’s turn as the likes of Derek Skees and Theresa Manzella pull up a sleeve to expose their ghoulish, translucent skin for a shot, despite their fear of a microchip hidden in the thick serum.


In case your stomach hasn’t turned yet, you should also know that all 150 legislators, even the ones whose greatest dream is to see government fail and fade away, get to step in line for free government health care. Yes, FREE! By simply being elected each legislator can now sign up for health insurance through the State of Montana at the cost to taxpayers of $1054 per month for the duration of their term in office and maybe more if unions bargain a higher amount down the road. Almost forgot, they also have front of the line privileges at the state employee health clinic down street. Smells a lot like socialism doesn’t it?

So what will richest man in the governor’s office do? Will he commander 150 doses to prop up the herd on the third floor? Or will he save every valuable drop for workers who patiently wait for the next covid case to come through the hospital door, who teach in a classroom, the paraprofessional tasked with restraining an autistic student, the 67 year old lunch lady who provides the most nutritious meal some students see in a day, the police officers assigned to patrol a freedom rally or at risk citizens of Montana who don’t have the luxury of never worrying about how much their next paycheck will be? Safest bet? Catch the mass legislative inoculation in the rotunda, but never mind that legislative staff because so many Montanans will gladly take their jobs when they finally tip over.


‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’