Vt. House approves mandatory fees on non-union members

Steve Howard, the chief lobbyist for the VSEA state employees union, tells lawmakers he supports imposing mandatory agency fees for non-union members. Photo by Nat Rudarakanchana

Steve Howard, the chief lobbyist for the VSEA state employees union, tells lawmakers he supports imposing mandatory agency fees for non-union members. Photo by Nat Rudarakanchana

The Vermont House voted 78-51 on Thursday to impose union fees on about 2,600 non-union education, state and municipal employees.

Known alternately as “agency fees” or “fair share fees,” backers of the mandatory fees say non-union members receive virtually all the benefits of union membership, without paying dues, which can run up to $500 annually.

They’re known sometimes as “fair share fees.” Advocates argue that “free riders” need to pay their fair share for services they receive. The non-union members are included in the collective contracts which unions negotiate with employers, for instance and can file grievances.

Critics say the mandatory fees effectively force workers to join unions, including those who earn little and can ill-afford to pay up to 85 percent of union dues.

Rep. Bob Bouchard, R-Colchester, said 188 support staff in his school district will end up paying $238 annually in agency fees.

“$238 per year – that’s a lot of money for the working poor,” said Bouchard on the House floor. “I’d assume a lot of them have to count every penny.”

Bouchard proposed an amendment to exclude school support staff from the legislation, leaving it intact only for teachers and other groups. The amendment died 50-86.

Rep. John Moran, D-Wardsboro, flipped Bouchard’s argument around. He noted that currently 32 people bear the entire cost of union negotiations and services, even though 188 people receive those services, an obvious unfairness.

He added that spreading the burden over more people could lead to better collective bargaining, which could in turn directly improve the salaries of poorly paid school staffers.

He estimated that fees could come down by $50 to $100 annually if everyone paid up. Under the legislation, money collected from agency fees goes toward lowering the cost of union dues.

Another sticking point in the debate involved how to handle some 500 state employees, who were explicitly promised that they’d be exempt from agency fees in a 1998 contract.

Rep. Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, said that to renege on that promise via legislation set a disturbing precedent, while Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, countered that items which were subject to collective bargaining in the past have since been legislated into statute. Currently, whether or not to impose agency fees on employees is a subject which employees and employers negotiate at the bargaining table.

Attempts to exempt these 500 or so state employees, a carve-out which the Shumlin administration has backed, were defeated on the House floor.

Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, also tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill by changing labor practices, so that unions are no longer the sole representative for the entire workforce they cover, even representing those who don’t belong to the unions.

That would mean those who belong to unions would pay dues, and that non-members wouldn’t pay agency fees, but also wouldn’t receive any union services. They’d have to negotiate their employment contracts directly with their employers, which Moran said undermined the spirit of collective bargaining.

Browning argued that this avoided two inequities, that of free-riding and compulsory union membership. She doesn’t believe it conflicts with any federal laws. Her amendment died in a voice vote.

The bill also mandates a study on the advantages and disadvantages of instituting a “merit pay” system among teachers, due in January 2014. The bill must still clear third reading for final passage.

Nat Rudarakanchana


  1. kevin lawrence :

    Most people do not like the idea of a fee for involuntary membership– that’s understandable. My experience has seen the non-members who suddenly want union representation– usually after they make an ethical or serious legal blunder– leading to an expensive defense that the non-member never supported with their own dues. The safe and fair work environment we all expect does not arrive at our feet without collective bargaining. Now, all employees benefiting from a secure contract will contribute.

  2. Dave Bellini :

    I don’t recall any promise in 1998, by anyone, at the bargaining table(I was there) that other state employees would be exempt in perpetuity. I took the 1998 contract language with me to the public hearing to prove this. Thanks to the legislators who voted for this.

  3. Patrick Cashman :

    From Followthemoney.org on John Moran.
    Top 4 sources of funding by industry: Party Committees ($2,969), Self Finance ($2,903), General Trade Unions ($1,700), Public Sector Unions ($1,350).

    From the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
    Article 20.
    1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
    2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

    • David Rapacz :

      No one is being “compelled to belong”. Just compelled to pay their share of the coverage and protection the Unions are FORCED by LAW to provide to them. It’s about time!

  4. Howard Ires :

    No one is being compelled to belong to an association. This bill simply requires people to pay for the services they received when their contract was negotiated. Thank you Vermont Legislature!

    • Patrick Cashman :

      Vermont Statute relating to unsolicited goods and services:
      Title 9, Chapter 135:

      4401. Rights of recipient of unsolicited goods or services; obligation of business recipient to notify seller

      (a) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, if a seller delivers unsolicited goods to a recipient, the recipient may:

      (1) refuse the unsolicited goods; or

      (2) deem the unsolicited goods to be a gift and dispose of them in any manner without obligation to the seller; provided that, in the case of a recipient who is not a natural person, before disposing of the goods, the recipient shall make a reasonable effort to notify the seller that it has received the unsolicited goods.

      …(b) (2) The seller may discontinue services to the recipient. The recipient shall not be liable for any services delivered or used prior to the discontinuance of service.

      • Lee Russ :

        That law has nothing to do with a collective bargaining situation. It’s a provision aimed at commercial vendors who send consumers goods or provide them with services that the consumers did not ask for: a publisher who sends you an unwanted book, then sends an invoice for $50; a roofer who puts a new roof on your house when all you asked for was an inspection; etc.

        You simply can’t interpret a law in the abstract, as you are trying to do.

        • Patrick Cashman :

          No such specifically union friendly distinction is made.

          These people did not ask for the supposed services, and are now being charged for them with the state holding them down for the union to rummage through their wallets.

          The law means what is says.

          • Lee Russ :

            But it does not mean what you say it means. If you doubt that, try your interpretation in court. Any court.

            Nor, by the way, is the law “specifically union friendly.” It is simply not talking about them.

          • Patrick Cashman :

            A history of allowing unions to ignore the law does not mean the law ignores unions. It merely means we have lacked the moral fortitude to apply the laws equally.

            The law means what it says, so let’s apply it to everyone. No playing favorites when it comes to the law.

          • David Rapacz :

            They don’t have to ask for services, again, the Union is FORCED by LAW to provide them to everyone, even free-loaders…

  5. Sounds lack racketeering to me! Let me see, we re forcing you to buy healthcare at a rate determined by the government and as a state employee we’re forcing you to pay a “protection” fee… similar to how the mafia operates.
    It’s nice to be free!

    • David Rapacz :

      Then why is it OK to FORCE the Union to protect people who won’t pay in?

  6. Kathy Callaghan :

    I think this is a fair and equitable solution.

  7. J. Scott Cameron :

    These fees will enrich the Unions but will not lead to lower costs for the members who have been paying the freight for so long. There is nothing fair about this.

    What is a Union? A Union is a business. And being a public sectior Union in Vermont just became a lot more lucrative business venture than ever before. If VT-NEA was a publicly traded company I would buy stock immediately.

    This legislative imposition of agency fees will effectuate a huge transfer of wealth from workers to public sector Unions, and make it even more difficult for school boards. towns and cities in Vermont to stand on a level playing field when negotiating contracts.

    There is a solution for blue collar workers who don’t like being forced to pay fees to the Union. Rep John Moran unwittingly has identified the option: decertification. Because, in fact, many public sector Unions (especially support staff unions in public schools) do not enjoy the support of a majority of the people employed in positions eligible for Union membership. Here’s what Moran said about Rep. Bouchard’s concern that, out of 188 staff members, only 32 were in the Union and paying dues:

    “Rep. John Moran, D-Wardsboro, flipped Bouchard’s argument around. He noted that currently 32 people bear the entire cost of union negotiations and services, even though 188 people receive those services, an obvious unfairness.”

    The bargaining unit at issue has the support of only 17% of the eligible employees. That’s a statement in and of itself. Statutes allow the employees whose positions are included within a bargaining unit to determine whether or not to have a Union. A Union must have the support of 51% of the employees in the Unit or it can be decertified. If the 156 support staff employees in this particular Unit don’t like paying the additional $37,128 to VT-NEA (156 non-union members paying $238 each) they can file a petition with the Vermont Labor Relations Board asking that an election be held to determne whether or not there will be a Union, or not. If they vote to decertify, they will no longer have to pay agency fees (I won’t dignify this Bill by calling these forced extractions “Fair Share”).

    Thank you, Members of the Vermont legislature, for making sure that Vermont’s public sector Unions will continue to prosper financially no matter how tough times are on workers.

  8. Hod Palmer :


  9. Kathy Callaghan :

    For the record, no state employee is required to buy health care through the state employees health plan. Employees may opt out and go on a spouse’s plan, and several hundred do every year. The state employees health plan is not a government-run plan; the terms and conditions are negotiated between the 6,000 member state employee union and the state. Having been part of those negotiations, I can say that the process works satisfactorally for both sides.

    Regardless of whether one joins the health plan or not, there are many other benefits that all state employees enjoy, whether they are union members or not. These negotiated benefits are listed in the union contract, and include: a seniority based pay structure with cost of living increases, a seniority based vacation structure, a sick leave accrual system, paid holidays, an Employee Assistance program (EAP); tuition reimbursement, and many more.

    ALL state employees benefit from these programs. It seems fair that those who do not pay anything toward the procurement of these benefits, pay their fair share. Life would a lot less comfortable for them absent these benefits.
    This is an issue of equity, not whether one agrees with the principle of collective bargaining.

    • The law requires that the non-union employees are represented by the union, and the unions like this arrangement because it gives them more bargaining power.

      The issue of “fairness” is a false one. None of the non-union employees has the option of negotiating their own working conditions.

    • Patrick Cashman :

      The term “collective bargaining” implies a voluntary association. That is not the case here. A portion of the workers are being forced to support a business whether they like it or not, if they want to work. It’s the company store.

  10. Peter Everett :

    If people now join the unions because they are forced to pay an “Agency Fee” which does not provide Liability coverage, will they be able to request the return of the portion of DUES that goes to a POLITICAL group or cause? No member should be forced to involuntarily contribute THEIR money to anything they disagree with. Just because you’re a member doesn’t mean you have to agree with leadership’s stance on anything.
    I was a “Forced” member of the NEA, my local assn and the County assn. I was also a long time member of the organization “Corncerned Educators Against Forced Unionism”. Vermont has now joined the ranks of “closed shop” employment. Such a shame.

    • rosemarie jackowski :

      Peter…Yes, when I was a member of the NJEA/NEA I was forced to pay dues for political campaigns. Not fair. Not right. Should never happen. Isn’t this a violation of ‘free speech’ – money being used as coerced speech?

  11. John Dunham :

    I am so Happy that S14 Fair Share bill passed today!! Now everyone will be contributing equally for the rights and benefits that the union has bargained for us all.

  12. Jim Barrett :

    Of course the fee was approved, it means more money for the dems ….from the unions! A forced payment to unions is unthinkable but in Vermont socialism is more than alive and well and now a dictatorship!

  13. Curtis Sinclair :

    The union makes people pay and then does nothing for them in return. I was a union member and had to pay my own lawyer to help me get and unjust suspension taken off my record. Non unionized companies give people vacations, sick time and a seniority based pay structure. The VSEA does nothing but defend lazy bloodsuckers who should be fired. Now the state is going to have to pay more to hire people who will work so the lazy will get to take more breaks. And taxes will go up to pay for that.

  14. Mary Brenner :

    I don’t see the point of a union regulated by a government????

  15. Joe Speers :


  16. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that public sector employees cannot be forced to pay union dues.




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