JIM FOSSEL

Everything, including ‘right to work,’ should be on the table in a conversation about Maine jobs

Gov. Paul LePage makes a pitch to shrink the power of Maine's labor unions while offering details about his &quotOpen for Business zones" proposal at a press conference in Brunswick on Monday.
Gov. Paul LePage makes a pitch to shrink the power of Maine's labor unions while offering details about his "Open for Business zones" proposal at a press conference in Brunswick on Monday. Buy Photo
Posted March 13, 2014, at 11:36 a.m.
Last modified March 13, 2014, at 7:08 p.m.

Gov. Paul LePage has made a bold proposal with his “Open for Business” zones, expanding upon the Pine Tree Zones established under former Gov. John Baldacci. This is exactly the kind of reform Maine’s economy needs to make our economy more competitive. Making it easier to do business here is what will attract businesses, not recycling a plethora of big-government ideas.

It would be nice if the governor had willing partners in the Legislature, from both parties, who were interested in sitting down and discussing it with him. It would be nice if legislative leadership would take a measured approach to his proposal, detailing what portions they opposed and what ideas they would consider. It would be nice if there were willing partners for the governor in Augusta who want to put job creation first and are willing to do what it takes to accomplish that.

Instead, the governor faces intransigent opposition to the idea from the majority party. Democratic leadership immediately dismissed the idea within moments of the governor proposing it. They have latched on to the element they oppose — establishing right to work as part of the “Open for Business” zones — instead of searching for areas of agreement. That opposition continued this week as the governor promoted the plan.

The most strident rhetoric came from Senate President Justin Alfond. Appearing on WVOM, he was asked if it would be better to have right-to-work jobs than no jobs at all.

He responded bluntly, “No, it wouldn’t.”

Alfond proceeded to lay out a parade of horribles of questionable accuracy about right-to-work states. But his simple point was that there were some jobs Maine didn’t want.

Unless he opens a lot more bowling alleys, this is an especially ridiculous attitude coming from Alfond.

Unfortunately, this attitude isn’t new. Whether it’s big-box stores or nuclear plants, liberals have all too often put ideological beliefs above job creation. They’ve disregarded the concerns of their neighbors who just want any job — union, nonunion, whatever — to help make sure their community only gets the kind of employers they want. Conservatives have committed the same sin, of course, unable to see past the displays in the window or the sign on the door to the jobs underneath. We need to stop saying no to certain kinds of jobs just because we don’t like the company or the product. If you don’t like them, don’t shop there — but don’t fight to keep your neighbor unemployed.

Of course, it’s true that not all jobs are good jobs, but it’s also true that any job is better than no job. We do, after all, live in the United States. Right-to-work or no, companies have to adhere to basic federal safety, health and environmental guidelines. If your state wants to impose even more stringent regulations on top of those, it’s welcome to — and Maine often has. These laws all serve to protect workers, whether a workplace is unionized or not.

This is not to say that right-to-work will be a panacea for Maine’s economy — it won’t. Unemployment won’t immediately plunge to 1 percent; our median income won’t immediately zoom to $80,000 per year. However, just because right-to-work won’t instantly fix all of our problems doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be part of a solution.

Maine has a long way to go to reform our economy, but it’s time to have that conversation. Let’s have a serious discussion about our business climate, not a war of words. If we’re going to do that, everything should be on the table.

Let’s put aside the rhetoric and find solutions that work — because after all, that’s what Maine needs.

Jim Fossel, an Alna native, has worked for Sen. Susan Collins and Maine House Republican Leader Josh Tardy. He has volunteered on numerous campaigns, including Peter Mills’ 2006 campaign for governor.

 

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