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Posts Tagged ‘collective bargaining’

Two hundred teachers, firefighters, state employees, and other labor activists filled seats in Representatives Hall this afternoon to testify against several anti-labor bills, including one which would destroy the right of public sector workers to form unions.

Rep. Andrew Manuse, one of the sponsor of HB 1645. told the House Labor Committee “public sector unions are contrary to the public good.”  labor committee 1-19-12 026

His co-sponsor, Rep.George Lambert, was a little less blunt.  “What we have is a  structure that needs to be modified,” he said.  Although the staff of Legislative Services “did exactly what I asked them to do” when they drafted the bill, Lambert said he would propose amended language to fix what he called “unintended consequences.”  

Rep. Gary Daniels, chair of the House Labor Committee, labor committee 1-19-12 011 said he would convene another public hearing if the amended bill is “drastically different.”  

With the exception of the lobbyist for New England Right to Work (for less), John Kalb, every speaker opposed the bill in a hearing that went on for over two hours.

Members of the public erupted in applause after a statement by the Rev. Gail Kinney of the S. Danbury United Church of Christ, who told legislators that faith communities have consistently spoken out in favor of the right to bargain collectively.  The Roman Catholic Church has spoken out“Pope labor committee 1-19-12 027crop after Pope, encyclical after encyclical …Protecting the rights of workers “makes our beloved community stronger,” she said.

Gail and I both reminded the committee that the 1968 strike of sanitation workers in Memphis, during which Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, hinged on the rights of public sector workers to organize, bargain collectively, and have their dues voluntarily deducted from their paychecks.  

While legislators can try to take away the legal rights of workers, they cannot take away our human rights, nor can they take away the determination of workers to identify their common interest and act in solidarity.

Other bills considered today included renewed attempts to impose right-to-work conditions on public sector workplaces, prohibit dues deductions, and impair the ability of county officials to negotiate with their unions.  

Members of Occupy New Hampshire also visited the State House today to deliver a pro-labor message to Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien.  The Speaker was apparently not receptive. 

There’s more to come in the coming weeks, including the bill to limit membership on the Public Employees Labor Relations Board to business people, and one to end the mandatory lunch break.  And we’ll have our eyes on Rep. Lambert’s new proposal regarding the public sector.  

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labor committee 1-19-12 008 Two hundred union activists and allies poured into a hearing room this morning to oppose the first of several bills to weaken the power of organized labor. The first hearing, which started at 9 am, would forbid union dues to be deducted from private or public sector paychecks, while all other forms of payroll deduction would still be legal. 

Rep. Susan DeLemus, prime sponsor of HB labor committee 1-19-12 002 1163, said “I just want it to focus on union dues.”

“Right to work failed and those who backed it are using smaller ways to attack and destroy collective bargaining,” said Ted “O’Brien, a retired union member.“

Bills scheduled for later in the day include a ban on collective bargaining for public employees.  A rally is scheduled for 1 PM led by the national president of the Firefighters Union.

Chairman Daniels has just announced the hearings will move to Representatives Hall.

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More Snapshots from Occupy the NH Primary

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The highlight of Saturday afternoon was definitely the GLBT March from Veterans Park to Victory Park by way of the Bank of America.  I counted 200 people, some chanting “1,2,3,4, Open Up Your Closet Door, 5,6,7,8, Don’t Assume Your 2012 01 07 machester occupy the primary 111 Kids Are Straight,”  while others chanted “Ru Paul Not Ron Paul,” and the ever popular “We are the 99%.”  Since all the chants were going on simultaneously in a procession that stretched across a city block, it was interesting to hear an impassioned marcher at a short Victory Park assembly express how great it felt that “we’re all saying the same thing.”  Despite the irony, her meaning was obvious: there was a spirit of solidarity of the Occupy movement with gays and lesbians whose lives are under attack by the Republican candidates.

I should say, the Republican candidates with one exception:  Fred Karger, a longtime Republican and gay activist who’s name will be on the GOP ballot 2012 01 07 machester occupy the primary 056 Tuesday, was part of the march.  He said he has visited Occupiers in several cities during campaign visits.  

The members of the Leftist Marching Band gave marchers a lift, as they always do.  They also joined the Funeral Procession for the American Dream prior to last night’s debate at St. Anselm College.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be there so you’ll have to look elsewhere for reports of a spirited demonstration that included more people than any of the candidates mustered.  

Given the heavily-discussed reluctance of the Occupy movement to2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 001 develop a platform, it’s worth noting that the theme of “money out of politics” is one that  resonates with everyone.  A graphic design created by Brett Chamberlin and Alex Freid, both of Durham, is omnipresent at Occupy the Primary, and even hung from the Kennedy Tower next to the Capitol Center for the Arts, where the weekend’s second debate was held this morning. 

Occupy activists clustered on the sidewalk, just north of the theatre, next to Jon Huntsman’s contingent (Huntsman supporters included a goat.  No, I don’t know its significance.).  Romney and Paul supporters likewise greeted t2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 003 crophe ticketed audience that stretched out along the sidewalk in the  middle of the Occupiers and campaign volunteers.  There may have been a few Santorum signs, too, but I didn’t spot sign-holders from the Perry or Gingrich campaigns.  A contingent of anti-Zionist rabbis, dressed in black, held the space just south of the Capitol Center entrance. 

Across the street were members of the Communications Workers of America, employees of the NH Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper and one of the debate co-sponsors.  They are in the midst of an ugly contract dispute with the paper’s publisher Joe McQuaid, who has laid off workers, increased hours without a pay raise, and essentially refused to bargain.   The CWA members were joined by visiting members of the United Auto Workers, who are spending a few days annoying GOP candidates and also meeting with labor and political allies. 

When the debate ended, at about 10:30, most everyone but t2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 013he Ron Paul and Occupy folks left.  That meant it was a good time for a wedding to be held between a corporation and a person.  I objected at the appropriate moment in  the ceremony, and said that in New Hampshire a man can marry a woman, a man can marry a man, and a woman can marry a woman, but neither a man nor a woman can marry a corporation since, despite Mitt Romney’s claim, corporations are not people.  

 The Occupiers and Ron Paul groups shifted locations to the south side of the theatre, where the candidates’ vehicles were parked.  There, joined by a handful of reporters and unaffiliated Primary 2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 031 crop gawkers, they waited for the candidates to emerge.  As each candidate left the building and got into his car, Brett delivered a short, personalized speech for each one, with help of the people’s mic.  The only exception was Rick Santorum, who was greeted by a loud, spontaneous chorus of boos from all, including the Paulists.

That seemed to be a common enough reaction to the former Senator that he cancelled his remaining New Hampshire campaign events and flew off to South Carolina, where he no d2012 01 08 machester occupy the primary 039oubt hopes to get a warmer reception. 

Occupy the NH Primary re-convened in Veterans Park for an evening General Assembly.  Topics included a debrief of the previous night’s action, a report on communications with the Manchester police, proposed actions for Monday, and ideas for other gatherings of Occupiers from northeastern states. 

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Labor activists and allies endured a morning of speeches by GOP Presidential candidates and an afternoon of procedural votes, then left the New Hampshire State House with the Governor’s veto of the Right-to-Work-for-Less bill still intact.  They’ll be back again whenever the House re-convenes.

Over-riding the veto has been a top priority of Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien for months, but despite a 3:1 Republican majority, he knows he doesn’t have the votes he needs to over-ride the Governor’s veto of HB 474.  In addition to a solid bloc of Democrats, there are still enough pro-labor Republicans to keep the anti-union bill from becoming law.

HB 474 would make it illegal for employers and unions to adopt a union security clause in their collective bargaining agreements, thereby preventing unions from collecting “agency fees” from non-members.  The point of this perennial legislation is to weaken unions by making it possible for workers to be “free riders,” i.e. to get the benefits of a union contract without paying a dime. 

Today’s show was a bit different from the rehearsals to date.  FNewt leaves 10-12-11ollowing last night’s Republican debate in Hanover, five of the candidates – Gary Johnson, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and Michelle Bachman – were invited by the Speaker to address the House.  Since members knew the Speaker could spring the the veto over-ride vote on them if they left the House chamber, the pro-labor members dutifully stayed in their seats throughout.  For that sacrifice I thank them.  

Members of the International Association of Fire Fighters showed up in larger than  usual numbe10-12-11 015rs today, making it clear the labor movement is ready for the fight that will go beyond this year’s battle over Right-to-Work-for-Less.  

Also present were faith-based activists making it clear that their religious values place them squarely on the side of worker justice.  

It’s hard to feel like victorious without a vote, but each time Speaker O’Brien decides not to put the measure up for a vote is an indication we are winning.  

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Will Committee Propose Minor Changes to Existing Law or End of Public Worker Unions? 

It’s no secret that the tea-crazed element in the Republic Party is out to destroy unions, and with their disappearance further depress wages and benefits for workers across the labor market. With manufacturing unions in a weakened state due to globalization and technological changes, anti-union attention has shifted to the public sector.

Given the political context, New Hampshire labor activists and allies looked with apprehension on the creation of a committee made up of State Representatives and Senators to “study collective bargaining by public employees.” The committee’s mandate, established by passage of HB 580, gave the committee no more guidance than contained in those six words.

Sen. Raymond White said creation of the study committee was “an offshoot of all9-15-11 004 the discussions around pension reform.” While HB 580 did begin as a bill to overhaul the pension system, the context was actually much wider and more ominous. White may have forgotten that the House budget plan included a measure, introduced by Rep. Neal Kurk, that would turn all public sector workers into “at will” employees at the expiration of collective bargaining agreements. And HB 580 itself, also sponsored by Rep. Kurk, included the following provision in the version approved in the House:

Following the end of the term of a collective bargaining agreement and during any period of negotiation, the status quo shall be maintained as to the wages, hours, and conditions of employment of employees in good standing. Except where required by statute, the continuation, after the expiration of the agreement, of the provision of any medical, dental, and life insurance benefits, retirement or pension benefits, and any other fringe benefits, shall be subject to the exclusive authority of the public employer.  [emphasis added]

In other words, the clear intent of the House was to strip unions of their power. The Senate, no hotbed of pro-labor sentiment, kept this radical approach out of the budget and pension bills. Instead of just killing HB 580, which would have been a desirable outcome, the Senate proposed the study committee as an alternative. .

Following the study committee’s first meeting September 15, it seems that this group is out to tinker with collective bargaining, not destroy it. The bigger assault depends on whether the legislature over-turns or sustains Gov. Lynch’s veto of HB 474, the Right-to-Work (FOR LESS) bill, and in an array of bills to be considered next year.

The study committee began its work by electing Rep. Gary Daniels, the ant-union head of the House Labor Committee, to be its Chairman, and Rep. John O’Connor to be its Clerk. Daniels made it clear that their scope is only the state and local public sector, for which the collective bargaining process is set out under RSA 273-A. (That public employee collective bargaining is governed under state law, not federal, appeared to be news to Rep. Steven Winter, a former airline pilots’ union member who voted for “Right to Work.”)

David Lang of the International Association of Firefighters explained that the current system could be improved. In particular, the lack of dispute resolution methods in the law can make it hard to complete complex negotiations in a system where contracts not only have to be approved by union members and municipal officials, but also funded by votes of school districts and town meetings. Nothing that his own union, in Hampton, has been without a contract for six years, he said, “There has to be an end in sight.”

Unions are not just about pay and benefits, Lang testified. The issue the promoted unionization of Hampton firefighters, he said, was the quality of protective clothing. The union contract made it more likely that firefighters would return home alive after work. Acknowledging the sensitivities of taxpayers – a group that includes union workers – Lang said it’s “important for workers to have an understanding of what the pay and benefits are going to be” in order for cities and towns to attract workers to serve as police officers or firefighters.

Mark MacKenzie, who now serves as president of the NH AFL-CIO, was a Manchester firefighter when the law covering public sector collective bargaining was established. It was through collective bargaining, he said, that firefighters were able to improve their gear and training. Union contracts are not responsible for the rising cost of health care, he said.

Other speakers included Laura Haney of the NH Federation of Teachers; Diana9-15-11 006 Lacey, Jay Ward, and Dick de Seve of the State Employees Union; and Dean Michener of the School Administrators Association. In the back-and-forth between committee members and speakers, attention kept returning to whether negotiating sessions should be videotaped and broadcast on public access cable TV.

If the committee keeps its attention on minor matters, the committee report, due Dec.1, might be of relatively little consequence. It’s still possible that Kurk-like proposals will be put on the agenda.  We’ll get more indications at the committee’s next meeting, Thursday, September 29, at 9 AM. Rep. Daniels said there would be other opportunities for members of the public to present testimony before the committee winds up its work in November.

Regardless of this study’s outcome, attention should be focused on the 2012 legislative session, for which 794 bills have been proposed by House members. At this time, the details of these bills are still being worked out, so all we can see are their titles. But these include such gems as:

“Prohibiting all public employees from participating in collective bargaining,” “Requiring 100% consensus vote by union members to be included in a collective bargaining agreement,” and “Prohibiting the state from withholding the union dues of state employees.”

The war on the workers goes on.

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Governor Vetoes; Over-ride Vote Scheduled for May 25

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Religious and small business leaders joined union members today in praising yesterday’s veto by Gov. John Lynch of HB 474, the so-called “Right-to-Work” bill.

“There is no evidence that this legislation will offer any benefits to New Hampshire’s economy or workers,” Lynch said in his veto message.

“In the last seven years of recruiting businesses to move to New Hampshire, not one business leader has ever even asked me if New Hampshire had a right-to-work law,5-12-11 007 let alone suggested it was a factor in the company’s location decision,” he added.  “No New Hampshire business leaders have ever told me that the lack of a so-called right-to-work law prevented them from expanding or hiring new workers here in New Hampshire. And no New Hampshire workers have ever told me they couldn’t get a job because New Hampshire doesn’t have a so-called right-to-work law.”

Mark MacKenzie, president of the NH AFL-CIO thanked the governor and said “there is mounting evidence that Right-to-Work undermines the economy and interferes with collective bargaining.”

5-12-11 004 Speakers at today’s news conference included Rev Elaine Peresluha from Portsmouth Unitarian Universalist Church, Rev. Kendra Ford from the Exeter Unitarian Universalist Church, and Paul Brown, owner of Madeleine’s, a downtown Concord bakery/cafe. 

Since the proposed legislation, which would bar unions and employers from agreeing to contracts that provide for non-members to pay agency fees to the unions, has nothing to do with the rights of workers to be employed, the term “right to work” should be seen as propaganda.  The propaganda emanates from the National Right to Work Committee, based in Virginia, a fact that did not escape Gov. Lynch.

“The debate over the so-called right-to-work bill in New Hampshire appears to be largely driven by national outside interest groups, and is not a result of problems facing New Hampshire businesses or workers,” he said in his veto message.

Protect New Hampshire Families has scheduled a Lobby Day for May 18.  Speaker of the House, William O’Brien, says he will attempt to over-ride the veto on May 25. 

 

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