MATTHEW GAGNON

You (should) have a right to work

Posted Dec. 01, 2011, at 6:19 p.m.

Jobs, jobs, jobs.

The first, last and often times only things on the mind of voters across the country right now are jobs. Politicians drone on endlessly about “job creation” and attack “job-killing policies” while voters punish those whom they perceive as being uninterested in improving the economy.

Despite this, legislatures aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. Some minor things are being done that would help the jobs situation, but let’s be honest, a lot more could be done.

Maine has a rather historic opportunity to lead on the issue of job creation, outflanking its more free-market neighbor, New Hampshire. Maine can, and should, pass a right-to-work law.

Right-to-work laws exist in roughly half of the states in this country, mostly in the South and West. At their most basic level, these laws prohibit agreements between labor unions and employers which make membership in a union and payment of union dues a condition of employment.

In other words, if you want a job but don’t want to join the union, you can’t be forced to as a condition of your employment.

Right now, the state nearest to Maine with a right-to-work law is Virginia. The very pro-union industrial northeast is uniformly absent these laws, while the entire American South, Midwest, and Mountain West regions have them.

Former gubernatorial candidate and former president and CEO of Maine & Company Matt Jacobson is repeatedly on record saying that many of the companies that he tried to recruit to Maine didn’t even want to consider moving their operations to a state that isn’t right-to-work. Despite the attractiveness of Maine’s work force, these companies end up in places like Texas or Virginia.

Imagine the opportunity that presents. Companies that want to bring their business to a northeastern state would have one option: Maine. That would be an incredible recruiting advantage that could help make Maine one of the most attractive places to do business in New England.

But more than that, the law is just good sense. Unions are a vitally important part of a healthy, functioning society, but membership in unions should be up to the individual worker. It should never be held over the head of the prospective employee as a condition for employment.

Too often our laws have given special favors to unions, because unions play such a big role in elective politics. Unions funnel money into politicians who promise to help make unions more powerful, and in turn those same politicians make unions more powerful. It has always been a very incestuous “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” arrangement, to the detriment of workers.

A right-to-work law doesn’t attack unions, it simply gives workers the opportunity to join a union or refrain from doing so, for whatever reasons they so choose. Isn’t choice and free association the most basic bedrock of our democracy?

New Hampshire just blew its chance and left the door wide open for Maine. Despite the overwhelming approval of its legislature, Democratic Gov. John Lynch vetoed a bill that would have given the Granite State a right-to-work law. The state House fell just barely short of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn his veto, and thus died the law.

But Maine has a Republican House, Republican Senate and a Republican governor, and this likely represents the best chance Maine has to pass such a bill. If they don’t push for it now, it will likely never get passed.

In February, Gov. LePage famously declared, “We’re going after right-to-work,” and a fight ensued over LD 309, a bill to enact right-to-work in Maine. Republicans seemed to be itching for a fight on the issue, but concerns about the passage of the budget meant the bill was shelved and the legislation was dropped with little fanfare.

Well, now it is time for a fight. New Hampshire’s failure is Maine’s opportunity. Membership in a union should be voluntary. It will give Maine people more freedom, and it will help bring jobs to the state. In an environment such as this, could there be a better idea?

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at matthew.o.gagnon@gmail.com and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.

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