Right-to-work legislation advanced in the Montana Legislature on Friday as the House Business and Labor Committee voted to advance the proposal on a nearly party-line vote.
House Bill 251 is from Rep. Caleb Hinkle, a Republican from Belgrade. It would prohibit the requirement of belonging to a union as a condition of employment. The bill would also bar private-sector unions from requiring non-members covered by bargaining agreements pay union dues.
The Janus decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 already made it so unions can't collect fees for collectively bargaining on behalf of non-member public employees.
House Bill 251 was amended in committee to remove a requirement for the state attorney general to investigate and prosecute any claims of violations of provisions in the bill if it were to become law.
Democrats opposed the bill, while Republicans said they wanted the full House to debate the policy.
Rep. Derek Harvey, D-Butte, said his grandfather was hurt in a mine injury and because of the benefits secured through his union, he was able to continue to provide a home for his family.
"Right to work cuts wages, it kills benefits and it makes it harder for Montanans to provide for themselves and their families," Harvey said. "This all hits home for me. There's a good chance I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the union benefits of my grandfather, working in the mines in Butte."
Harvey pointed out when the committee heard the bill, there was a "massive show of force" from workers around the state opposing the bill.
Rep. Denley Loge, a Republican from St. Regis, said he wanted the discussion on the proposal to go to the full House. That was echoed by Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby.
"There's only 20 of us in this committee, and I don't think we can make that decision," Gunderson said of if the bill should advance.
Earlier in the day, the same committee voted down another of the several bills that have been introduced this session to change the landscape for unions in the state. House Bill 461 from Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, that would have members of unions at a nonprofit would have to consent to pay fees and that doing so without consent from nurses would be an unfair labor practices.