Senate delays action on DeCoster bill, could die in committee

Posted June 10, 2011, at 9:56 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Senate moved Friday to delay a vote on a bill that removes workers’ right to unionize at the DeCoster-owned Quality Egg farm in Turner.

The move comes with five days left before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn, meaning the bill may die in committee.

That outcome will depend on whether the House concurs with the Senate’s decision.

The House on Thursday voted 74-68 to approve LD 1207 after an announcement by the bill’s sponsor that removing workers’ right to unionize was a sticking point in the sale of Quality Egg Farm to a subsidiary of Land O’Lakes Inc.

The extent of those talks is unclear, as is whether the sudden disclosure of a deal influenced Thursday’s House vote to repeal workers’ 14-year-old right to organize.

The motives behind Friday’s decision by the Senate also were vague.

Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, initially moved to table the bill after he was called upon by Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, to introduce it.

Rector said he was surprised he was called because he planned to speak against the bill. Rector, who initially voted for the bill in committee, changed his position after revelations that the U.S. Department of Labor had recently fined DeCoster’s Turner facility for “serious” and “willful” safety violations.

Rector said he “wasn’t too excited” about committing the bill back to committee, but said the bill “was going nowhere” as long as the House concurred with the Senate’s decision.

Rector said he was asked to commit the bill to committee at the request of leadership, which wanted to delay the bill to see if the Land O’Lakes deal materialized.

Although Rector said he was ready to defeat the bill, he said he hoped the rumored deal went through.

“I think it would be a wonderful thing for the state of Maine if Mr. DeCoster no longer owned that business and we had a more reputable employer,” Rector said. “I think that would be good for the state of Maine, frankly.”

But the prospect of a deal is uncertain at best.

Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon Falls, said Thursday he hoped telling lawmakers about the sale would change the minds of those uncomfortable with backing legislation that benefits DeCoster, a company nationally known for its checkered history of workplace and labor violations.

Opponents, however, were skeptical of the timing and noted that there was no evidence that sale negotiations were legitimate.

A spokeswoman from Land O’Lakes would neither confirm nor deny that the two sides were in negotiations. She also denied any involvement in the LD 1207.

A representative from Quality Egg described the negotiations as preliminary.

The bill will move to the House next Tuesday.

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