AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats on a legislative committee swiftly defeated two pieces of legislation Friday that aimed to make Maine the 25th state with “right-to-work” laws on the books.
In consecutive 7-4 party-line votes, majority Democrats on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee opposed the measures, which also attracted the strong opposition of pro-union forces.
One measure, LD 831, would allow an employee to work at a unionized business without having to support the union financially as a condition of employment. The other, LD 786, would repeal the law allowing public employee unions to deduct the equivalent of union dues from the paychecks of public-sector workers who choose not to join the union.
A hearing on the bills earlier this week ignited partisan tensions, pitting Democrats and labor advocates who characterized the legislation as attempts to undermine unions against Republicans who said the bills represented needed policy changes that would make Maine more economically competitive and attractive to business owners.
The bills are similar to two that were introduced by Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, during the last legislative session, when Republicans held majorities in the House and Senate, but didn’t pass. Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, introduced the measures this time around, although the switch to a Democratic-led Legislature makes the bills even less likely to pass.
The divided vote on the two bills sets them up for debate in the House and Senate chambers.
The committee work sessions on the bills Friday concluded swiftly, with Senate Chairman John Patrick, D-Rumford, immediately proposing that both bills “ought not to pass.”
Lockman proposed amendments to both bills, but committee leadership didn’t allow them to be debated.
Under Maine law, workers don’t have to belong to a union as a condition of employment. However, employers and unions are allowed to require that all workers covered by a union contract — union members and nonmembers — share in the costs of representation. LD 831 would outlaw that requirement and make imposing it a Class D crime.
Lockman’s proposed amendment Friday would have downgraded violating the requirement to a civil offense.
LD 786, the other measure, would repeal the “ fair share provision” in state law that lets public employee unions deduct dues from the paychecks of nonunion public sector workers. The bill also would require public employee unions to recertify annually — through employee votes — as the collective bargaining agent for each public employee unit.
Lockman’s amendment would pare the bill down to a provision that repeals a portion of a 2007 law that allows the state and other public employers to collect union dues from employees without their authorization and remit them to the union. Under Lockman’s amendment, the union would have to find other means to collect dues and service fees.
Gov. Paul LePage supported both of Lockman’s bills.
Monday’s hearing was dominated by claims from right-to-work proponents that economic, job and population growth in right-to-work states have exceeded growth in other states in recent years. Opponents countered that wages are generally lower in right-to-work states and that a number of right-to-work states still rank high on lists of states with high poverty rates and low GDP.
The Wall Street Journal reported in December that private sector employment has grown more quickly in right-to-work states than elsewhere — 4.9 percent compared with 3.9 percent respectively over the past three years. The newspaper also reported average wages were lower in right-to-work states, but that they were the same as or greater than wages elsewhere when economists factored in the cost of living.