Supreme Court union dues decision takes effect in New Hampshire 

  • New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu walks through a group of SEA/SEIU labor union representing public-and-private-sector workers across New Hampshire on his way to his first State of State address at the State House on Thursday, February 15, 2018. The two governor portraits above Sununu are Governors Albert G. Brown and John H. Barltlett. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Thursday, July 05, 2018

A landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling over public sector unions takes effect in New Hampshire on Friday, state officials announced, with all non-union members released from mandatory dues this week.

For years, public workers’ unions in New Hampshire and other states have collected dues from all public sector employees – including those who weren’t members themselves. The non-members, known as “fee-payers,” have been made to pay a lower amount that covers the collective bargaining expenses but not political organizing expenses.

But in a 5-4 decision last week, the court determined in Janus v. AFSCME that the mandatory payments are a violation of workers’ free speech rights, forcing the employees to pay for organizations whose political views and actions they may not agree with. The court struck down the practice in its ruling.

Now, New Hampshire officials are honoring that decision, which sent shockwaves among labor organizers last week. In a joint notice to employees sent Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu and Rich Gulla, president of the State Employees’ Association, said the two parties were working together “to ensure we are following the law regarding agency fees.

“The SEA and the State agree that, going forward, the union will not deduct agency fees from employee paychecks,” the notice reads. “Deductions for full members, who have opted into union membership, are unaffected by the decision and dues shall continue to be deducted from their paychecks.”

Friday will be the first payday in which non-union public employees, who include police officers, teachers and state department staff, won’t see the dues collected. And for New Hampshire state workers, it will also be the first paycheck to reflect a 1.5 percent pay raise agreed to after a months-long bargaining effort by the unions against the governor’s office.

For the unions, that coincidence might come as a bittersweet irony. But a spokeswoman for the SEA, Melissa Moriarty, said that the Supreme Court decision had spurred non-members to pledge their membership in the last week out of support.

Moriarty could not immediately provide the proportion of the SEA’s workers that are non-union members. But she said that “the overwhelming majority” already are members, and argued that the 1.5 percent yearly pay raise would underscore the union’s value and keep it viable.

“You get what you pay for, and people who are deciding to be members are realizing that, and realizing that if they don’t pay anything, eventually that’s going to reflect in what they end up receiving,” she said.

For “right-to-work” advocates, fresh off the defeat last year of a state bill that would have applied the Janus ruling to private and public workers, the decision was a welcome one.

Earlier in the week, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation said it had sent letters to all states without such laws in effect, including New Hampshire, and that it would be watching closely to ensure it was enforced.

“Although the Janus decision is a huge victory for independent-minded government employees across the nation, a long road remains ahead to enforce the new protections of their First Amendment rights,” the foundation’s president, Mark Mix, said in a statement. “Union officials just lost their forced-fees privileges to dock the paychecks of five million public-sector workers. The Foundation will continue to give workers a voice by making sure union bosses respect workers’ constitutional rights.”

After months of bruising rhetorical jabs and public rallies over the latest contract dispute, Sununu and the SEA, meanwhile, kept a more positive tone.

“The State and the SEA remain committed to our collective bargaining agreement and maintaining our working relationship,” the parties said in the notice to employees.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)