Right To Organize:

Testimony of Claire Ebel Regarding HB 821


Right To Organize


Executive Director



FEBRUARY 19, 2003

Thank you for inviting me to testify before you today regarding this important piece of legislation.

HB 821 purports to protect the right to freedom of association by protecting the citizens of New Hampshire from being forced to join unions.

The American Civil Liberties Union supports the right to freedom of association as part of our Constitutional heritage. In the 1960’s, we supported the right to freedom of association for members of the NAACP when racist state officials sought its membership list. We have also supported free association for less worthy groups.

We specifically support the right of workers to choose for themselves whether of not to join a union. We oppose closed shops in which one must be a union member to be employed. We also oppose requiring employees to join a union after it has won a representation election. The ACLU adopted this policy over 20 years ago, in 1981, and maintains this policy today.

If HB 821 protected the right of employees not to join a union, we would support it. But this is not what the bill does. To begin with, no legislation is needed to protect this right. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act prohibits discrimination against any employee because they have chosen not to join (or to join) a union. There are no loopholes in this law to close and no ambiguities to clarify. Employees cannot be forced to join a union. HB 821 adds nothing to the protection that already exists under federal law.

The real issue in HB 821 is payment for union services. Once a union has won a majority in a representation election, and been recognized by the employer, it is legally obligated to represent all members of the bargaining unit. This includes employees who voted against the union and employees who have chosen not to join the union. A union which declined to represent an employee because they had not joined would have committed an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act.

The services unions provide to all members of the bargain unit are many. When the union negotiates a contract with the employer (called a collective bargaining agreement) for higher wages and benefits (which usually occurs), all employees get the better terms, including employees who have not joined the union. The union is responsible for ensuring that the terms of the collective bargaining agreement are carried out- for all employees. If an employee believes that his or her rights under the agreement have been violated by the employer, the union must submit a grievance on the employee’s behalf, even if the employee is not a union member. If the grievance cannot be resolved through internal processes, the union takes the case to arbitration with a lawyer paid for by the union.

All these services cost money to provide. And the amount of money is substantial. Many days of negotiation (and preparation) are required to create a collective bargaining agreement. Many more days of work are needed to monitor the employer’s compliance with the agreement. Filing and negotiating grievances consumes a great deal of the union staff’s time. Arbitration, like any legal proceeding, is expensive. Legal fees alone can easily amount to several thousand dollars.

The only source of revenue for these expenses is the employees in the bargaining unit. Since all employees receive the benefits, it is only fair that all employees pay their fair share of the costs. This is the law today.

The sponsors of this bill want to change this rule. They would change the law to allow employees to accept all the benefits provided by the union but decline to pay any of the costs. The only right HB 821 creates is a right no one ought to have, the right to get something for nothing.