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MT public employees highlight critical role of unions

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Big Sky Connection

 Helena, MT – The Montana Legislature is considering several measures that would weaken public employees' unions in the state. Public employees are pushing back. Comments from Michelle Wheat, engineering training coordinator, Montana Department of Transportation; and Elena Evans, hydrogeologist, Missoula Valley Water Quality District.


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Montana lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit public employees from joining a union for a year if they drop out. (Erik Madsen/Flickr)

Eric Tegethoff

February 23, 2021

HELENA, Mont. -- Public employees are letting Montana lawmakers know the importance of their jobs and unions.

Legislators have targeted unions with several measures, including a bill prohibiting the automatic deduction of dues from employees' paychecks.

Michelle Wheat, engineering training coordinator at the Montana Department of Transportation, explained the union's goals.

"Whether it be our construction crews or our snowplow drivers, unions make sure that we have a voice at the table and we can ensure that we keep our jobs and keep our full-time employee numbers," Wheat stated.

Lawmakers also have introduced Senate Bill 228, which would bar public employees from rejoining a union for a year if they drop out. It's scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday.

Supporters of these measures say they reduce restrictions on workers.

Wheat noted it would affect employees who do critical work in the state.

"The most important thing the Department of Transportation does is ensure that our roads and bridges are safe for the traveling public," Wheat asserted. "So, ensuring that our roads meet design standards that prove to be safe and effective, making sure pavement is at a standard that is good for drivers."

Elena Evans, hydrogeologist for the Missoula Valley Water Quality District, said she's a proud union member because it gives her and other employees a seat at the table.

Evans makes sure water is safe to drink, and she gave another example of the crucial work she does for Montanans.

"If a truck slides off into the river, then I get called out to make sure that's cleaned up appropriately so that it doesn't harm our streams and rivers," Evans concluded.

 



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