With state representatives attending, union members from the community Thursday praised unions while speaking out against a proposed Right-to-Work bill during a meeting at the Derry Public Library.
About 60 union representatives attended the meeting in a room in the library. The workers told how unions have helped them in their jobs and wanted to let state representatives know how they felt about the bill.
Derry’s state representatives had been invited to the meeting in a Jan. 11 letter from the New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Glenn Brackett to discuss proposed legislation such as Right-to-Know.
“This is an opportunity to meet with your constituents to discuss issues critical to workers, their families and our state’s economy,” Brackett wrote.
Under the Right-to-Work bill, unions would no longer be allowed to collect a fee, called an “agency fee,” from non-union members.
According to federal law, unions are required to represent employees whether they are in a union or not. Employees don’t have to join a union but still have to pay for the agency fee for their percentage of collective bargaining. Employees who aren’t in a union but pay agency fees are called “agency members.”
In New Hampshire, a union member pays 100 percent and an agency member pays half of the fee. Agency members pay the fee because they still receive representation, Brackett said after the meeting.
“They are paying for it because they are covered under federal law,” Brackett said. “The union represents them.”
For example, if an agency member is fired, the union represents the employee in arbitration and mediation, Brackett said.
“If they get fired we have to go to arbitration, mediation,” Brackett said, adding “You pay for it, it’s federal law.”
Under Right-to-Work, Brackett said, “To those people who don’t want to pay anything, you can get all of the advantages and not have to pay anything. That’s the inherited unfairness of it.”
Proponents of Right-to-Work say it will help improve the economy by increasing employment and wages for workers.
The state Senate approved the bill by a razor-thin margin of 12-11 on Thursday. The proposal now moves to the state House.
After the meeting, longtime union member Dana Savageau said he opposed Right-to-Work because non-union members would receive all of the benefits union members receive without having to pay for them.
“Right-to Work is a scary thing,” said Savageau, who has been a carpenter for 35 years and belongs to Carpenters Local 111.
Savageau said unions help workers in such areas as on-going education. He said workers continually have to learn about new equipment such as hydraulic lifts and scaffolding.
“Dues pay for our education, he said. “We have ongoing education, it never ends.”
Savageau said he and other union members have lived in the community for years. They wanted to let state representatives know where they stood on the bill.
“We’re part of the community and want them know that we really care about the Right-to- Work,” he said.
If approved, Savageau said union members believe that Right-to-Work would weaken unions, while lowering wages and negatively impacting benefits.
After listening to the union members, State Rep. Phyllis Katsakiores said she thought the meeting was very informative and she was impressed by the workers’ stories. Katsakiores is opposed to Right-to-Work.
“I think the union has done a great job,” she said, adding, “And my people I represent as a town councilor, almost all of them are union employees. How do you turn your back on your people, you can’t do it? So that’s why I support them.”
State Rep. Richard Tripp also attended the meeting and said afterward that he hadn’t yet read the bill and wasn’t ready yet to make a decision.
“Since I haven’t read the bill I don’t know what it does,” he said.