Unions look for another win with Janus bill

Baker won't say whether he would sign it

HOUSE SPEAKER ROBERT DeLEO will bring a bill to the floor for a vote this week that would allow unions to charge non-members fees for certain services, a response to the Supreme Court ruling last summer that choked off an important source of money for organized labor.

An affirmative vote in the House would not only be a victory for unions, but a positive step forward for the rocky relationship of late between House Democratic leaders and the state’s largest unions.

“It’s very important in terms of protecting our working men and women. The Janus decision was looked at as a blow to that, so I think we wanted to send a message here in Massachusetts in response to that decision,” DeLeo said Monday.

The bill (H 3825) was written by the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and would allow unions to charge non-member employees for representation in arbitration cases and other disputes. It’s a response to the high court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision last summer that barred unions from charging non-members agency fees.

“I think it’s terrific. All the public sector unions are unanimously supporting it,” AFL-CIO of Massachusetts President Steve Tolman said.

Tolman and other public sector union leaders were furious last year after the Senate passed a Janus bill on the final day of formal sessions in July, but it stalled in the House. DeLeo reiterated Monday that he was concerned last year that some unions, including Teamsters Local 25, did not support the bill, which they now do.

“Was I mad last year? Of course I was. That’s normal. It’s not fatal,” Tolman said. “This is about moving forward and doing something that’s right for the workers.”

Gov. Charlie Baker said he thought the Legislature’s patience was “appropriate,” acknowledging some privacy concerns for workers whose information would be shared with unions as part of an orientation process.

“I do remember this debate last spring and at that point and time there were a lot of points of view being represented by organized labor and I think the Legislature’s desire to make sure everyone was singing off the same sheet of music on that was an appropriate response,” Baker said.

The Republican governor did not say whether he would sign the bill as written, but said the Janus decision did raise issues for organized labor that “ought to be addressed.”

If the bill passes the House on Wednesday as expected, it would be the second win for unions in less than a week on Beacon Hill.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, which drew the ire of DeLeo last month for personally targeting Education Committee Chairwoman Alice Peisch in their protest over school funding, celebrated over the weekend Friday’s news that a significant charter school bill for New Bedford had been all but defeated.

The bill, which would have transferred an unused building in New Bedford to create a second city campus for the Alma del Mar charter school, stayed bottled up in the Legislature at a key deadline for the school. The public charter school will still expand, but without gaining access to the city-owned school building.

Progressive Democrats blocked the bill from getting referred to committee before a deadline on Friday, but DeLeo and other Democrats who run the House and Senate made no apparent attempt to give the bill momentum during the month that the home rule petition was pending before the Legislature.

The speaker said Monday he still expected the bill to have a hearing, though he acknowledged that Education Commission Jeff Riley has said Alma del Mar will move forward with separate expansion plans. “I think we both have heard some positives, some negatives in terms of where people stand on the issue,” DeLeo said referring to Senate President Karen Spilka. “I think the New Bedford delegations is split on the issue so the next step is probably, if it does happen, what comes out at the hearing…,” DeLeo said.

The emergence of the Janus bill also comes after Rep. Dan Cullinane (D-Dorchester) criticized Tolman at a public hearing last month where he said a solid majority of House members were signed on as cosponsors of a “wage theft” bill to hold employers accountable when they fail to pay workers money that is due to them.

The bill has previously cleared the Senate but died in the House.

“The issue on the table here is of wage theft,” Cullinane said, urging members of the committee to talk with their local union members, not just leaders of the umbrella organizations like the AFL-CIO. “It is far too important of an issue to the workers and to the Massachusetts economy to be left to the usual bluster and BS of those who only seek to yell and scream and name call at rallies when the cameras are on and from the steps of the State House.”

Cullinane did not mention Tolman by name, but it was clear to whom he was referring.

“This is a time for real leadership on this important issue. This is not a time again to put on a show for the cameras and then retreat to silence and lack of engagement behind staff and blast emails,” he said.

Tolman declined to engage Cullinane when asked about his comments: “I think it’s important to focus on wage theft and passing the law and that’s what I testified for and I hope to have the representative’s support as well as the speaker’s so we can get this bill passed because $700 million in stolen annual.”

A coalition of business and labor are also waiting to see whether the Legislature will delay aspects of the state’s new paid family and medical leave law, including a payroll tax that is scheduled to take effect July 1.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Raise Up Coalition have requested the delay, as well as other clarifications to the law.

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
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DeLeo said a delay in the implementation of the paid family and medical leave payroll tax to fund benefits beginning in 2021 was “something we’ll consider,” while Baker said he has been talking with legislative leaders over the past couple of days about the issue.

“We’ve done the work to be ready. The systems are in place, the operating model is up,” Baker said, adding, “If we’re going to do something about this, we probably need to do it this week.”