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House committee tables latest Montana ‘right-to-work’ bill

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Workers against “right-to-work” legislation pose on the Montana Capitol steps on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023. PHOTO BY NICOLE GIRTEN / DAILY MONTANAN

By Blair Miller DAILY MONTANAN

The latest effort to make Montana a “right-to-work” state was tabled in a House committee Wednesday less than a week after hundreds of union members packed the Capitol in opposition to House Bill 448.

The House Business and Labor Committee voted 12-7 to table the bill, sponsored by Rep. James Bergstrom, R-Buffalo, shortly after he and Rep. Derek Harvey, D-Butte, gave brief comments. Proponents said the bill would stop “forced unionization,” but opponents said workers in Montana already have the option to join — or not.

“I would just like to say there was quite a bit of information out there and politics, and some intimidation,” Bergstrom said. “And that’s all I want to say about it.”

Harvey, a union firefighter, motioned to table the bill, discussing the storied history of unions in Butte and offering lawmakers to come with him to learn about the history.

He said HB448 was aimed at going after that union community and noted how most of the people who spoke at last Friday’s hearing – 80 of the 84 who testified – did so in opposition. The only proponents were groups linked to “right-to-work” and anti-union business efforts in Montana and nationwide.

“These are working-class Montanans that we came here to represent,” Harvey told the committee.

The lawmakers who voted to table the bill were: Committee Chair Rep. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls; Rep. Derek Harvey, D-Butte; Rep. Fred Anderson, R-Great Falls; Rep. Bob Carter, D-Missoula; Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, R-Fairfield; Rep. Steve Gist, R-Cascade; Rep. Jonathan Karlen, D-Missoula; Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis; Rep. Jennifer Lynch, D-Butte; Rep. Eric Matthews, D-Bozeman; Rep. Greg Oblander, R-Billings; and Rep. Katie Sullivan, D-Missoula.

Those who voted against tabling the bill were: Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings; Rep. James Bergstrom, R-Buffalo; Rep. Steven Galloway, R-Great Falls; Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby; Rep. Ron Marshall, R-Hamilton; Rep. Nelly Nicol, R-Billings; and Rep. Katie Zolnikov, R-Billings.The tabling of the legislation followed suit with similar efforts this year and in others past. A “right-to-work” bill died on the House floor last session, and another bill introduced this session was tabled in committee earlier this month.

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