Friday, February 18, 2011

Anti-union bills pass despite worker protest


BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation aimed at weakening the leverage of labor organizations in Idaho passed another hurdle Wednesday despite opposition from union workers who flooded the Capitol this week to testify against the two bills.

"We're not bad people, we're just working-class people," said pipefitter J.D. Day. "This is legislation that's going to hurt a lot of union families."

The first bill seeks to prohibit so-called "project labor agreements" that require contractors to forge pacts with unionized workers as a condition of winning a government construction job. Dean Haagenson, owner of Contractors Northwest Inc., said such agreements exclude nonunion shops like his from projects.

But labor groups say the proposed changes are unnecessary. They add that the prohibitions would be an invitation for lawsuits.

Under the second bill, unions would be prohibited from using dues to subsidize member wages to help union-shop contractors win projects. These subsidies, known as job targeting programs, can reduce a union contractor's overall costs and allow it to submit a more competitive bid.

Supporters of outlawing the practice say it artificially manipulates the market and they want to level the playing field.

Lawmakers on the House State Affairs Committee voted to send both bills to the full House with a recommendation they pass.

Why the anti-union legislation this year?

Republicans consolidated their power in Idaho during the November election, as the state marked its 25th year as a right-to-work state where workers can't be required to join unions as a condition of employment. High-profile protests by the Carpenters union in Idaho's capital city also have made some lawmakers angry and have added to national pressure from building industry groups to make changes.

The union has pitted the demonstrations against organizations it has targeted in a battle the union says is to force businesses to pay area standard wages and treat workers fairly.

Lawmakers aren't the only ones upset about the protests.

"They make the rest of us look bad," said James Duxbury, a union sheet metal worker based in Boise.

The Carpenters union contends the legislation really has no impact on them, but will have a negative impact on contractors and state agencies.

"What makes Idaho look bad is when is when a small number of unscrupulous contractors violate industry standards and the law. But that issue has nothing to do with these bills," said John Foster, a lobbyist for the carpenters union.

In the House Education Committee next door, lawmakers took up legislation targeted at the Idaho Education Association. The state teachers union already felt under threat this year with a proposal Republicans unveiled in January to overhaul the public education system. It includes a pay-for-performance plan and would require teachers to forgo coveted job security.

The legislation would ban taxpayer money from going toward a labor organization for dues or to train workers, while also prohibiting school districts from including union activities in job descriptions or paying teachers for any time they spent on those activities. Most local union leaders are volunteers, but a handful work full-time on behalf of educators in Idaho's largest school districts, according to the union. These arrangements are bargained at the local level.

Nampa Superintendent Gary Larsen told lawmakers Wednesday that the role of this local union leader is crucial in his district, helping train new teachers and administrators while also working to resolve disputes or conflicts. House Education Committee Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said the panel had no problems with the position, but with how it is funded.

"I think what we're saying is that the union should pay her salary," Nonini said.

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