IBEW 1837 Members Continue to Push Back Against Anti-Union Legislation

April 12, 2011 - Members of IBEW Local 1837 have been playing an active role in worker efforts to push back against union-busting legislation both Maine and New Hampshire. At rallies, vigils, in testimony at public hearings and in meetings with legislative representatives, Brothers and Sisters in our Local have been speaking out against efforts to weaken all unions and to even to strip some public sector workers of their rights to collectively bargain.

In New Hampshire, Rep. Neal Kurk added an amendment to House Bill 2 that would essentially strip collective bargaining rights from public sector workers once their contracts expire by making them “at will” employees whose terms and conditions would be determined by the employer. HB2 went on to pass the full House. IBEW 1837 members at Littleton Water and Light, a municipal utility, could be directly affected if it becomes law.

IBEW 1837 members Eric Hesseltine and Eugene Lynch drove down from Littleton to Concord to participate in a silent vigil outside Representatives Hall as legislators filed in for their morning session on Thursday, March 31. The Littleton Lineworkers stayed for a noontime rally outside the State House where they and other IBEW 1837 members joined 5,000 New Hampshire citizens and union members to protest the House Budget plan that included the union-busting provision and deep, painful cuts to the social safety net. The rally – which featured faith and community leaders – was the largest outside the New Hampshire State House in several decades.

Also in the Granite State, so-called “Right-to-Work” legislation in House Bill 474 would weaken all unions by taking away the right for employees to freely bargain contractual provisions with employers that require fees for non-members who enjoy the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement. Laws like this often lead to weaker unions and lower wages and benefits for all workers.

IBEW 1837 members have attended hearings in both House and Senate Committees considering HB474, the most recent before the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday, April 5.

“I love this state, my community and my neighbors. I’m proud that I raised by daughters here,” said PSNH Lineworker Tom Carpenter during his public testimony before the Senate Committee. “But I’m tired of this assault on workers and it has got to stop.”

After the hearing, PSNH Lineworker Bill DeMotta spoke to Sen. Andy Sanborn asking him to oppose the bill. Although Sen. Sanborn said he was undecided about HB474, he took time to complain to Brother DeMotta about union criticisms of him during past political campaigns. Sanborn later voted in favor of HB474 in a committee vote .

HB474 has already passed the full House. A Senate vote is expected within the next two weeks. Although Gov. John Lynch has pledged to veto the so-called “Right-to-Work” bill if it reaches his desk, attempts to override his veto would surely follow.

Maine workers have also has been under attack since Gov. Paul LePage took office in January. Proposals to weaken child labor laws and other protections for workers have made it onto the legislative agenda, and the Governor even took the extreme step of removing a mural celebrating Maine’s labor history from the Department of Labor, earning him condemnation from throughout the country and around the world.

But it is two of the so-called “Right-to-Work” bills in the Maine Legislature that have really helped to mobilize IBEW 1837 members as well as members of other labor unions in the state.  Public sector workers are targeted by LD309 while private sector workers are impacted by LD788.

More than 300 union members including IBEW 1837 members Dan Washburn, Brent Phinney and Carlos Morales from Central Maine Power turned out for the Maine AFL-CIO Labor Lobby Day on Tuesday, March 22 to lobby against both of these bills. First, union members packed the back of the Cross Cafeteria to hear from union advocates including Sen. John Patrick and Sen. Troy Jackson. After a quick training session they moved into the hallways outside the Senate and House to talk to their representatives about Right-to-Work and other issues that impact the working class.

IBEW 1837 members have also attended close to a dozen meetings with their Senators and State Representatives from Henniker, New Hampshire to Hallowell, Maine. They talked about a diverse array of worker issues including Right-to-Work and also about how public sector employees are under fire in Concord and Augusta.

Dick Rogers and several other IBEW 1837 members from CMP attended a meeting with Sen. Earle McCormick on Wednesday, March 30. Much of that meeting concerned how public sector employees are really being asked to shoulder much of the cost of fixing Maine’s state budget woes.

“The State needs to live up to its obligations that were negotiated by both parties, the union and the state government,” said Brother Rogers. “The state can’t just pull the carpet out from under these people.”

Throughout the meeting, union members were respectful but gave their strong views about LD209 and LD788. Senator McCormick told them he understood their concerns and is opposed to both Right-to-Work bills.

Challenges to working people and their unions are expected to continue well into the next legislative session in both states. Union members will continue to organize to defend their rights and hold legislators accountable who vote against the interests of working people.