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New Vermont law aims to strengthen labor unions

Gov. Scott says law leads to ‘erosion of personal privacy rights’
Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 6:17 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A new law in Vermont makes it easier to form labor unions and for unions to collect fees from the more than 30,000 Vermonters they represent. But some, including Governor Phil Scott, say it could come at the cost of privacy for employees.

Let’s say you start a new job in the public sector as a teacher, police officer, or any other kind of state employee. On your first day, you may be asked to join a labor union, a group that negotiates with employers for higher wages and better benefits.

Heather Riemer, the director of the Vermont American Federation of Teachers says the new law makes it easier for workers to form unions. “Implementing an expedited timeline so that people get a union election done within 21 days," Riemer said. “Part of the bill gets a quicker election for public sector employees.”

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public employees who choose not to be in a union don’t have to pay service fees, even though they enjoy the benefits from the union. The new law approved by the Vermont Legislature pushes back on the high court’s ruling by requiring employers to take union membership fees directly out of workers' paychecks if the employee wants it.

“It’s basically making sure employers don’t decide they want to make it harder for people to be union members by denying them the right to have their union dues taken out of their paycheck," said Riemer.

Last week, Governor Scott signed the bill into law but urged lawmakers next session to revisit what he calls an erosion of personal privacy rights. The law, as written, forwards employees names, emails, home addresses, and phone numbers to a private organization for its own purposes -- some of which the governor says could be political.

“If you happen to make it through that 60-minute orientation and you don’t sign up for union membership, It’s entirely possible that you’ll start receiving phone calls or emails or maybe a visit to your home on a Saturday morning from union organizers trying to get you signed up," said Max Nelsen, the labor policy director at the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank

But ultimately, Riemer says this new law makes it easier for people to form and join unions and fight for equal wages and working conditions. “Unions can’t promise that things will be better after you organize," he said. "But all the statistics say that union workers make more money, especially when you look at women and people of color. The difference in the pay gap once you have a union, that disappears. We think it should be easier for people to have a voice and a vote at work.”

The new law goes into effect on January first.

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