There are reasons to be optimistic about the American economy. Beneath the persistent unemployment across the nation since 2008 lay the foundations of an economic renaissance.
Across America, states are choosing economic liberty over the forced unionism of the past by granting employees the right to work without paying tribute to labor unions and without being subject to ugly strikes that bring whole companies down.
Here in Maine, we can choose either to join this growing liberty movement, or we can resign ourselves to more of the same old, same old. Whatever you think of right-to-work legislation, one thing that draws near-unanimous agreement among Mainers is the fact that the status quo has been failing us.
Maine hasn’t always been the state with the oldest population. We made it that way by stubbornly clinging to policies that left many of our children and grandchildren with no choice but to seek a career elsewhere.
That is why I have introduced two bills in the Legislature to change the status quo and bring America’s burgeoning economic renaissance to Maine. The first allows Mainers to work at unionized private businesses without being forced to join or financially support a union as a condition of employment. The second bill offers paycheck protection to state employees who were forced under the previous administration to pay fees to the Maine State Employees Association or lose their jobs.
My bills are inspired both by principle and by economics. The principle is liberty, the bedrock of our uniquely American heritage of limited government and individual freedom. Simply put, workers should not be coerced to join any association or made to pay for services they don’t want and didn’t ask for.
The economic justification of right-to-work is being proven again and again across the country as states that embrace it breathe new life into stagnant economies with more jobs and more opportunity.
Last year, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found that from 1980 to 2011, employment grew 32 percent in forced-unionism states, compared with 71 percent in right-to-work states. But what about wages? Despite liberal claims of higher wages in forced unionism states, when accounting for cost of living, wages in right-to-work states are actually 4.1 percent higher, and incomes grew four times faster since 2001.
Just last month, even the union stronghold of Michigan couldn’t deny the demonstrable benefits of economic liberty as they granted their workers the right to work without paying tribute to labor unions. One motivation was a neighbor’s experience. From February 2012, when Indiana passed a right-to-work law, to December 2012, when Michigan followed suit, Michigan lost 7,300 jobs while Indiana gained 43,000.
Michiganders could no longer sit back and watch their economy languish. They came to terms with a changing economic landscape, and they adapted. For that, they should be applauded; and for that, they see a light at the end of their once-bleak economic tunnel.
We’re seeing similar motivations here in Maine. Gov. Paul LePage has shared many anecdotes of meeting with large employers in an effort to recruit them to locate in our state, only to be rebuffed in large part because we’re still among the half of states that maintain a forced-unionism policy.
The truth is that the dinosaur mentality of too many union bosses means lost jobs and lost opportunities for Maine people. Hostess Brands was crushed by an obstinate national union apparatus that didn’t care about preserving and growing an American manufacturing business but was more concerned with perpetuating ridiculous work rules and feather-bedding. They were determined to squeeze blood from a turnip and punish a once-prosperous business that dared challenge the status quo.
Some make excuses for Maine’s economic situation. They say we should keep large employers out of our state because our Main Street quaintness is one of our qualities. They say we should focus on tourism and the environment.
I say Maine can have it all. Maine was once home to both large manufacturers that provided jobs — shoe companies, a booming paper industry — and a vacation destination at the same time.
I say Maine needs more solutions and fewer excuses.
The renaissance is knocking on Maine’s door. We can insulate ourselves in the nostalgic dogmas of the past, or we can do something bold. Let’s give Mainers the right to work and join the states that are seeing more jobs and more opportunity. Let’s give the next generation a better Maine than we inherited.
Rep. Lawrence E. Lockman, R-Amherst, is serving his first term in the Maine House of Representatives on the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee.