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Bill requiring Utah public employee unions to recertify every 5 years is on the table

Republican Rep. Jordan Teuscher speaking on behalf of HB 285 at the House Business and Labor Committee, Jan. 26, 2024.
Utah House of Representatives
Republican Rep. Jordan Teuscher speaking on behalf of HB 285 at the House Business and Labor Committee, Jan. 26, 2024.

Even though Utah isn’t known as a pro-union state, there is some history here. Today, data shows only 4% of the state’s workforce belongs to a union. That’s below the national average, especially given that the union membership rate for public employees across the country is five times that of the private sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Which is where a bill this session from Republican Rep. Jordan Teuscher comes in.

Besides requiring a public employee to affirm the deduction of their dues once a year, HB 285 would require unions to hold an election to recertify every five years. Additionally, workers would be prohibited from participating in union activities during working hours.

Teuscher said his bill was drafted “to protect workers that are public employees, while also making sure that we safeguard public resources.”

Utah County Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner is in favor of the checks the bill would provide. She told the House Business and Labor Committee on Jan. 26 that “if the employees appreciate those services as well, they will choose to re-enroll. And I don't think that that's overly burdensome.”

Many union members and representatives expressed concerns that the legislation unfairly targets them.

Sara Jones with the Utah Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, said that automatic payroll deductions are being singled out.

“This targets association membership dues only, not payment for a gym membership, your mortgage, a charitable contribution, a contribution to HSA or anything else. If payroll deductions are a concern, then they should be uniformly prohibited.”

Initially, firefighter and police unions were to be exempted. Teuscher said those workers save lives, and therefore “the role that a public labor union provides to public safety employees is very different than the role that they play for other types of government workers.”

“Why not require those unions, especially when their members are in such high risk jobs, to be responsive to their members,” Jones asked. “This is simply the government choosing to give preferential treatment for one union over another.”

At the end of the hearing, the committee approved an amendment removing the exemption.

The bill was advanced on an 8-4 vote, with four members absent. It now goes to the full House for debate.

Tilda is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in the Central Utah bureau based out of Provo.
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