Senate approves mandatory fees on non-union members

The state Senate has approved mandatory fees on non-union members for services they receive, such as representation in grievances and collective bargaining, which under law unions must provide even to non-members.

The Senate bill passed 24-5 Wednesday, and is the first substantive bill to pass the Senate this session. It now faces consideration in the House.

About 2,100 school teachers and support staff, 542 state employees, and 31 municipal employees would have to pay fees capped at 85 percent of full union dues. For education workers, annual fees would range from $150 to $350, with doubled fees for teachers compared to school staff, who include custodians and cafeteria workers.

School boards largely oppose the legislation, which sailed through committee and enjoys widespread support from lawmakers.

Joel Cook, head of the Vermont-NEA, the state’s teacher union, is a key backer of the legislation.

Opposing arguments include the idea that the substantial fee effectively forces non-union members into joining unions, and that the hundreds of thousands in revenues generated by these so-called “fair share” fees could be misdirected towards union political activity.

He hailed the passage today as meaningful progress, and is optimistic about the bill’s fate in the House. Last year a similar bill passed the Senate, only to die in the House during the last days of the session, purely for technical and procedural reasons, according to Cook.

“Ultimately the positions being staked out by opponents are somewhat made up, and so I’m pretty convinced when legislators actually understand the facts about these things, they won’t be swayed by the fear-mongering, frankly, that’s occurring,” said Cook.

Opposing arguments include the idea that the substantial fee effectively forces non-union members into joining unions, and that the hundreds of thousands in revenues generated by these so-called “fair share” fees could be misdirected towards union political activity.

But supporters of fair-share fees, like Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, and Phil Baruth, D-Burlington, said on the floor that the fee is calculated precisely to cover expenses for services used by non-union members, like staff time for the negotiation of contracts or assistance in grievance proceedings.

They said union leaders had documented the need for their specific agency fee rates by providing financial audit records.

The Vermont NEA is expected to raise up to $500,000 per year through agency fees, while the VSEA is expected to raise about $200,000 annually. The two unions say that will cover costs it already bears, and that the money could help lower dues for union members, who complain that it’s unfair for them to bear costs imposed by “freeloading” non-members.

Republican Sens. Peg Flory of Pittsford and Joe Benning of Lyndonville questioned whether the Senate Economic Development Committee had adequately documented union claims, or whether it had swallowed financial figures from union representatives without due diligence.

Cook declined to comment on the implication that union bosses might have other uses for revenue from fresh fees, for example to potentially bolster executive salaries or political activity.

While he didn’t know offhand how much the NEA spent annually on services provided to members and non-union members, he estimated that the majority of union time and money, about 80 percent, is devoted to non-political activity.

Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, proposed halving the recommended agency fee by capping it at 49 percent of normal union dues in an amendment, which died 21-8 on the floor. He said the state had given unions a virtual taxing privilege by making these fees mandatory, and argued his rate would be more acceptable for voiceless non-union members

Nat Rudarakanchana

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61 Comments on "Senate approves mandatory fees on non-union members"

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Pat McDonald
3 years 2 months ago

I was the Commissioner of Personnel (Human Resources) when the Agency Fee Bill was passed in the 1990s impacting state employees. An agreement was reached between then Governor Howard Dean, Secretary Bill Sorrell, and Tom Whitney, VSEA. All felt that to charge a fee to current employees was not appropriate and that the fee should apply only to new hires. As Commissioner, I read a letter of support from then Secretary Sorrell into the record of the Committees of jurisdiction. The Legislature agreed that this was the right approach and the bill passed with the clear understanding that it would… Read more »

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

Article 20 of the International Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

No one may be compelled to belong to an association.”

Leslie Matthews
3 years 2 months ago

How is this relevant Patrick? No one would be compelled to join the union by this law.

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

Their employment is held hostage dependent upon providing payment to big labor. You don’t see that as “compelled to join”? Let’s use an analogy. This is now the United Pagan States of America. You are not obligated to join the pagan church and tithe 10%. However you will be assessed an additional 8.5% tax for all the benefits the Pagan church brings to you such as preventing the earth from being overrun by dragons (haven’t seen one, it must be working)and only full pagans are allowed to vote. If you don’t like it, you are always welcome to move to… Read more »

Eric Weiss
3 years 2 months ago

You can’t be serious that providing services like fighting for a fair wage or providing benefits like health insurance is the same as preventing the earth being overrun by dragons. If you are, then it’s clear you have no arguement worth listening to.

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

I love it when people do that; “well as long as you support/deny item A/B, you obviously have no argument”. It generally indicates someone who confuses their own stubborn obtuseness and willful deafness with wisdom. On a related note: you confuse fair wages and benefits with the union. Fair wages and benefits can, and do, exist in the absence of unions. In this particular case we are talking about employees of the state and we, individual citizens, have direct influence on their compensation and benefits. Do you really maintain that in the absence of the VSEA your rapacious and cold… Read more »

Leslie Matthews
3 years 2 months ago

Your analogy is bogus. First of all, we have a constitutional separation of church and state in this country, to avoid the kind of thing you are describing. We also have a constitutional right to collect agency fees from non-union members for services such as contract negotiations and enforcement (see Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977). Agency fees are neither a tax nor a tithe, but rather a payment for services received. Nevertheless, let’s explore the analogy to taxes a little bit further: Most of us pay taxes for things we disagree with all the time.… Read more »

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

“Agency fees are neither a tax nor a tithe, but rather a payment for services received”. Let’s just focus on this bit, and ignore the irrelevant remainder. Such services were not sought, but were instead forced upon these workers. They are unsolicited services, and just as if a bunch of thugs show up and demand payment for a windshield washing you didn’t ask for, the individual should never be forced to pay. It’s extortion and our legislators certainly shouldn’t aid and abett it, much less legislate it. Actually it is worse then traditional extortion, instead of the threat of physical… Read more »

Leslie Matthews
3 years 2 months ago

Furthermore, non-union members do not lack a democratic voice, as your bogus analogy implies. Non-union members can fight the imposition of agency fees through the political process. I’m happy that a vast majority of Vermont senators supported the fair share bill – undoubtedly some non-union members aren’t, but that’s how our majority-rules political system works. Likewise, I participated in the anti-Iraq war movement and lost. Our representative government chose to pursue the war. And so on. Non-union members could also lead a movement to dissolve the union. Their movement would undoubtedly fail, at least regarding VSEA. A majority of state… Read more »

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

“Furthermore, non-union members do not lack a democratic voice”. Actually your statement does not agree with the VSEA website “Only members have a voice in the collective bargaining agreement, your employment contract. Only members can vote on the contract.” So with the aid of our legislators the union is given a monopoly on the relationship with the employers (us, the taxpayers). They then charge a fee to perform functions employees would otherwise do themselves for free and indeed make it illegal for those employees to do so; negotiate terms of employment. Now our legislators are going to assist them in… Read more »

Leslie Matthews
3 years 2 months ago

What I said is that non-members have a voice in the agency fee requirement since that is under jurisdiction of the Vermont legislature. Employees must join the union to participate in contract bargaining.

I’m not sure what you mean by Big Labor – at least as regards VSEA. We are an independent, unaffiliated organization.

Your comment about the Workers Center being “in it for the money” is truly laughable. The Workers Center has absolutely nothing to gain financially by supporting union organizing efforts. The Workers Center is not a dues based organization.

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

Ms. Matthews,
In 2011 the Workers Center was gifted with over $420,000 that formed the vast majority of it’s operating budget, including paying the over $250,000 in compensation to employees. Have you ever wondered where that money came from?

Krister's Adams
3 years 2 months ago

Your logic, or rather lack there of, is stunning. VSEA does very little for members nor no members. This is unfair and very unjust. Why must those of us who make little be forced to give up more? For what?

Leslie Matthews
3 years 2 months ago

Um, no. I don’t wonder. I am a member of the Workers Center and I currently serve on the Workers Centers’ Coordinating Committee. I believe strongly in the human rights principles and issues for which the Workers Center advocates, I spend many hours volunteering my time on Workers Center activities, and I donate monthly to the Workers Center myself, along with many other supporters. You may not agree with the Workers Centers’ principles or issue positions and that’s fine – we can debate those on the merits. But to insinuate that the members of the Workers Center or its staff… Read more »

Leslie Matthews
3 years 2 months ago

Krister’s Adams I feel that VSEA has done plenty for me and other state employees, in negotiating decent contracts, maintaining and administering one of the most cost-effective health plans in the state, and standing up for decent working conditions and fairness to employees, so I guess I disagree with you about that. That’s not to say that I don’t think VSEA has plenty of room for improvement, though, or that I always agree with VSEA’s positions – I definitely don’t. I consider that as a member of VSEA it’s my responsibility to participate and speak up about what I’d like… Read more »

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

Ms. Matthews, It really isn’t insinuation to ask a question, though it may seem that way if you are uncomfortable with the answer. We should probably also use more exact language, there is no Vermont Workers Center per se. It is actually a franchise operation of the national 501(c)4 organization “Jobs with Justice” which is heavily co-mingled with the AFL-CIO and AFL-CIO affiliate unions, and is merged with American Rights at Work, another AFL-CIO sponsored organization. As a 501(c)4 Jobs With Justice not only doesn’t have to reveal donors, but can also engage in direct political advocacy. It enjoys some… Read more »

krister adams
3 years 2 months ago

Ms. Matthews: VSEA is spending much time, energy and presumably money on the issue of parking. I get at least 1 email every day about this. However, my cost I can charge for expense reports (i.e. for meals) has increased once in 20 years; my cost-of-living increases are barely noticable (just a couple examples)! Perhaps we’d be better of if VSEA cut-back drastically and only focussed on a few key items. I’d certainly have more money in my pocket. Employers do feel like they’re going into combat whenever the union comes to call.

krister adams
3 years 2 months ago

Again thios parking issue is all-consuming for VSEA – emails, time, money (mine!), energy, etc. are astounding. What a waste. All this could be better spent on pay increases that matter! ———————————- Speak up about parking in Montpelier! Take the survey! Montpelier State Employee, please read the Building and General Services report on parking potential solutions. After you read the report, we need the Administration to hear YOUR voice! Be heard by clicking here are filling out our parking survey! Dear Colleague, Last week, dozens of our colleagues met with Secretary Spaulding, Commissioner Duffy and Commissioner Obuchowski to discuss the… Read more »

3 years 2 months ago

Wow. The state employees have a job tax, when will a poll tax be enacted. They are being forced to pay services they may not want. Well, at least the union will fight for them to get out of the health scheme (or at least pay significantly less into it) that the “law makers” are shoving down the people’s throats.

Eric Weiss
3 years 2 months ago

Please find me one person who does not want the services that a union provides…

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

Is that an option now? To opt out of union “services” and negotiate the terms of your own labor yourself? No. No it is not.

Dave Bellini
3 years 2 months ago

The grandfathered employees can opt out of the state employees healthcare plan, negotiated by the union. That’s OPTIONAL. But, unless their spouse has a good plan, they DON’T. They don’t say: “Heck, I hate the union so I don’t want the health plan they negotiated. I get it myself!” I don’t hear anybody carping they could obtain a better plan by themselves. Some years the health plan is 99% of what we discuss in bargaining. They can opt out of the dental plan too. They can opt out of the life insurance plan also. GUESS WHAT? THEY DON’T. When the… Read more »

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

Mr. Bellini, Maybe I have misunderstood this whole situation. As a member of the VSEA negotiating team are you saying that Vermont State employees have the right to negotiate their own pay and benefits packages with the employer? Because that would be great. The union could handle negotiations for those who are willing to pay for convenience, and others who choose to handle the negotiation of their labor themselves could do so. Not only would it avoid the whole unsolicited services problem, but the competition would drive the union to providing better services for their fees instead of stagnating through… Read more »

krister adams
3 years 2 months ago

but this IS a job tax on a service whether asked for or not. We as employees have no say in the matter.

Fred Woogmaster
3 years 2 months ago

Ms. McDonald: I know little about this issue. However, in reading your words “hopefully members of the House of Representatives will recognize and honor the commitments made by their predecessors” the following questions came to mind:
(1) what if that commitment was misguided?
(2) what if changing times dictates a new response?

Pat McDonald
3 years 2 months ago

When you are offer a job, you should be made aware of all of the mandatory employment conditions so that you can make an informed decision. Knowing all the facts you have a choice to accept the offer or not with all cards on the table. To change mandatory conditions after someone is employed is not considered best practice. In this instance ALL parties agreed to make agency fee a condition of employment for new hires only. To change those conditions after all these years just does not seem fair to me.

Leslie Matthews
3 years 2 months ago

Ms. McDonald: Things change. I wasn’t expecting a pay cut when I accepted a job with the State of Vermont in 2006, but that’s what I got in 2010. Conditions of employment change all the time. People’s jobs get transferred, pay gets or benefits get cut or modified, job descriptions change, working conditions change. One reason we have a union is to provide us with at least some democratic voice in how those changes unfold. But in any case, your argument does not have merit with respect to the fair share bill. Just as our pay scales may change with… Read more »

Leslie Matthews
3 years 2 months ago

Sorry for all the typos!!! Which we could edit these posts.

Leslie Matthews
3 years 2 months ago

Ahhhh! WISH we could edit these posts.

Pat McDonald
3 years 2 months ago

Leslie, you are correct that things change but usually for a very good reason – some changes come about through bargaining when individuals who would be impacted have the opportunity to vote up or down, some because they are not in compliance with changing federal laws, and so forth. I have not heard the VSEA testimony on why they are requesting these 500+ state employees be charged an agency fee so I don’t know the rationale. I am hardpressed however to come up with a reason that would require such a shift in policy after all these years. If it… Read more »

Douglas Duprey
3 years 2 months ago

“The Vermont NEA is expected to raise up to $500,000 per year through agency fees, while the VSEA is expected to raise about $200,000 annually.”

This is all about money. Perhaps these people don’t believe in Unions or perhaps, they are supporting their family on the money they make and now the UNIONS will have more of their money. Perhaps, the union is spending money supporting a politician they chose not to support. This is nonsense! If people don’t want to support a union they should not have to!!!!

Eric Weiss
3 years 2 months ago

First VTNEA does not spend dues money to support political candidates. That money comes from voluntary contributions to their political action fund.

Secondly there are no plans to increase the budget of VTNEA based on this legislation. In fact the only effect will be to lower the dues paid by members who no longer have to share the cost of supporting non-members

3 years 2 months ago

Just remember: when a particular school district votes by majority to have the union perform their contract negotiations, it is Vermont law that requires EVERYBODY

Tom Haviland
3 years 2 months ago

I have no problem with people not wanting to join a union for whatever reason. I do have a problem with those people freeloading off benefits the union has negotiated. So I see three possibilities for those commenting here about how awful unions are: 1. Don’t take a job at a union organization. You certainly have the freedom to not apply to a position where there is a union. 2. Change the law so that if you don’t join the union you don’t get the benefits. Negotiate your own pay package and insurance deal. 3. Pay the cost of the… Read more »

3 years 2 months ago

Well said – go with #2 and let things work themselves out.

Jim Christiansen
3 years 2 months ago

I concur.

Option #2 sounds the most equitable to all parties. Would it be acceptable to the Unions?

3 years 2 months ago

Wow – fumblin’ fongers … Anyway – to repeat – Just remember: when a particular school district votes by majority to have the union perform their contract negotiations, it is Vermont law that requires EVERYBODY in that particular “bargaining union” be represented solely by the union. Individual negotiations are a violation of the statute! The unions want this. It strengthens their hands at the bargaining table. For good or bad that is the way it is. Simple fact and reality. Now the unions want to force folks to help pay for these negotiations that were forced upon them. And now… Read more »

Michael Gardner
3 years 2 months ago

How is it that our liberal legislators are now worried about freeloading on unions but are never worried about freeloading on taxpayers

Bob Orleck
3 years 2 months ago

Can anyone explain how the 85% fee was calculated. Does it mean that 85% of all union dues are used for things related to workplace bargaining? Does it mean that 15% is all that is spent by the union on members-only events and political activism, etc? Sounds like the possibility of violations of federal law here but not knowing much about that others will have to decide. What I do feel, is that this has to be a violation of the rights of workers to work and to choose not to be a part of a union. In America no… Read more »

Krister's Adams
3 years 2 months ago

Agreed!!

kevin lawrence
3 years 2 months ago

I’ve had to represent these freeloaders who do something illegal or against the union contract. THEN they run for union support and defense. It’s totally hypocritical and predictable something-for-nothing behavior. I don’t love this law, but I am sick of co-workers letting others pay for their defense and settlement of contracts. Worst case example: I had to defend a non-union employee who called a middle school kid a “Baboon” to his face. She then wanted to be released from her contract and paid for two years not to teach. She did not deserve any legal defense from the union, but… Read more »

krister adams
3 years 2 months ago

Sir: In several comments here we have been told of the Unions riding-to-the-rescue on behalf of wronged employees. An associate of mine was Full-share member of VTNEA and had a live-changing workplace dispute. Not only didn’t the union help, but the union had to be reminded of this event and then failed to help. This type of issue has cropped up at least twice in 6 years.

Unions, in my book, are wimps.

Roy Hango
3 years 2 months ago

Right to work states are enjoying higher economic growth. Vt. with high taxes and excessive regulations will suffer.Liberals do not believe in freedom.
Vermont is destined to become a museum of natural History .

John Greenberg
3 years 2 months ago

“Right to work states are enjoying higher economic growth.” Could you document that statement please?

Dave Bellini
3 years 2 months ago

Speaking only about state employees: One fact not discussed, is that some of the “grandfathered” state employees join the VSEA on a situational basis. When they face discipline, are under investigation, when they face a lay-off, when they feel bullied, when they get the wrong boss, when they have a serious problem with Cigna…… they fill out a union cards, join the VSEA, have dues deducted and demand (or ask nicely) immediate representation. AFTER their problem is resolved, they quit the union again and stop dues payment to VSEA. They know that the VSEA is there, if things get rough… Read more »

3 years 2 months ago

Thus we see an abuse of dominant One Party Rule; the rights of the individual go by the wayside as the One Party pays homage to the rights of the Collective.

Public sector unions were always a lousy idea, and this bill makes it incrementally worse.

Leslie Matthews
3 years 2 months ago

Dick Tracy – Are you saying that our Vermont legislature was not democratically elected?

If so, how would you reform the system to ensure that the legislature IS democratically elected? Instant run-off voting? Parliamentary government? I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that campaign finance reform would have a significant impact on Vermont legislative races (though the argument would be stronger for state-wide races).

victor ialeggio
3 years 2 months ago

@Kevin Lawrence: I sympathize with what you’re saying — as someone who spent a few years as contract negotiator for support staff (para-educators, secretarial workers, library assistants, etc.), as well as working for the unionization of university graduate teaching assistants, 20 or so years ago. It has always been my feeling, however, that *the* central part of my/our job is to sell the union to non-members. Freeloading stinks but you/we are selling the idea of a better, more professional way of doing business. It’s not our job to change human nature by statute — we change attitudes by example. I… Read more »

Curtis Sinclair
3 years 2 months ago

At the Vermont State Hospital VSEA did all it could to defend employees who were not doing their jobs. Some patients died due to this incompetence. It also cost Vermont millions of dollars in federal funds after VSH was decertified. Then, even though VSH was decertified because of this poor performance, VSEA pushed to build an even bigger 70 bed state hospital. I would not want to pay money to a union that advocates for human rights abuses at the state hospital.

Jim Barrett
3 years 2 months ago

This has nothing to do with freeloading but everything to do with the left wing democrats making sure they get their cut of union FEES from EVERYONE! That’s the way elections are won!

Eric Weiss
3 years 2 months ago

Again, left wing democrats will not get a penny of this money…dues are not spend on political campaigns…

Curtis Sinclair
3 years 2 months ago

VSEA spent a lot of time and effort lobbying for a bigger state hospital. The governor wanted to build a small 16 bed facility but had to accept a larger 25 bed hospital.The union was pushing for an even bigger 70 bed hospital. I would like to know how much money VSEA spent lobbying for that.

Connie Godin
3 years 2 months ago

Excellent conversations. Myself when I worked for the State I wanted the VSEA, as namby pamby as they are, behind me if I ever needed them. And don’t forget they have Vince, very good adjudicator in their corner.

Dave Bellini
3 years 2 months ago

@PC: No, as discussed earlier. Nor have they ever sought to do so. They do have options however. Curious, the people who voice the most opposition with this do not appear to be state employees.

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

Mr. Bellini, So by your own admission the “options” you allude to are the option to either pay the union or don’t work? That’s not much of an option. It really pretty indicative that you, as a VSEA negotiator, believe that the average taxpayer should not be involved in this discussion. Please bear in mind that in discussions between an employee and the employer (in this case all Vermonters), the union is the interloper forcing themselves into the conversation. Now you would silence both the employee and the taxpayer so you can discuss your cut without interruption? While I for… Read more »

Kathy Callaghan
3 years 2 months ago

Mr. Cashman: There are no “taqxpayer dollars” funnelled into a labor union”, at least not the VSEA. Members pay annual dues to keep the union running. There is certainly no line item in the State Budget for “VSEA Support”, I can assure you! That would be a laugh for everyone!

And as far as taxpayer dollars are concerned, state employees took TWO 3% PAY CUTs to help with the economy in recent years. I don’t know of any other organization that did that.

Patrick Cashman
3 years 2 months ago

Ms. Callaghan,
To be clear; are employees allowed to at least hold the money before it is swept up by the union, or does the union dip direct into paychecks for their cut via a payroll deduction before the employee ever even sees the money?

Luci Stephens
3 years 2 months ago

I am old enough to remember a real history. Before VSEA existed, and as it developed its effectiveness, (particularly as regards contracts) inadequate compensation and associated financial abuses, and other abuses of State employees were sadly not uncommon (in spite of many wonderful individual managers and supervisors)and existed on a spectrum that ranged from entrenched practices (such as systematic failure to pay valid overtime) through harassment and abuse for personal gain to simply arbitrary, ‘because I can’ or ‘because we’ve always done it this way’ behavior – something as simple as a supervisor or manager expecting an employee to prepare… Read more »

christine labarre
3 years 2 months ago

I’m not sure how VSEA states they will get $200000 annually. There are currently 6656 members. At an agency fee rate of 13.58 which is paid twice a month the union gets $2,169,323 a year. How much does collective bargaining cost for that many people? If it was agreed to grandfather people it should be honored. No one, even grandfathered people should be forced to join a union. I hope the legislators in the House ask where the money goes.

christine labarre
3 years 2 months ago

Please consider supporting free choice for union membership. Oppose S.15 the “fair share” bill. sign my petition at

http://signon.org/sign/support-freedom-of-choice-1?source=c.em.mt&r_by=4963066

christine labarre
3 years 2 months ago

With all of this talk about unions has anyone thought about where the money comes from that pays state employees salaries and then union salaries? It is the Vermont taxpayer. Unions dominate less than 10% of the private sector. I know many people who work in the private sector without union representation. No one I know complains about substandard health insurance, poor pay, poor working conditions, etc. Everything that VSEA claims to get for state employees. I’m sorry but the days of unions is done. Considering how bad the Vermont budget is, isn’t it time we let the union go… Read more »

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