AUGUSTA, Maine — The House of Representatives on Friday defeated the latest bill designed to make Maine a “right-to-work” state.
The bill, LD 489, was defeated in a 90-52 vote, with a handful of Republicans joining majority Democrats in rejecting the bill.
It was the latest effort by State House Republicans to weaken unions by preventing organized labor from collecting representation fees. Those fees are required from workers covered by collective bargaining agreements who choose not to join the union.
Efforts backed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage to establish Maine as a so-called right-to-work state failed in the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 and the Democrat-controlled one in 2013. Two years ago, LePage called his inability to pass right-to-work his “biggest failure” since being elected governor.
Right-to-work bills often are described as efforts to ensure no worker is forced to join a union, but that’s not exactly correct. The federal Taft-Hartley Act already prohibits “closed shops,” in which employees are required to join unions.
However, in Maine, as in 24 other states, employees who benefit from collective bargaining can be required to pay a smaller fee to the union that represents them, even if they choose not to become dues-paying members of the union. Those fees are not used to pay for political activity, and labor officials say they are necessary to prevent nonunion workers from free riding.
“It costs money to negotiate contracts, to service grievances and arbitration, to service the collective bargaining agreement,” Rep. Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick, said. “Although no one is obligated to join the union as a full members, service fees can and should be charged.”
Proponents of the right-to-work legislation — such as bill sponsor Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst — said employees should not be forced to make payments to a private organization they don’t want to support.
“The underlying principle is personal freedom and individual liberty,” Lockman said Friday. “It’s time for Maine to set its workers free from compulsory unionism.”
Two other bills targeting unions also were shot down in the House on Friday.
The first, LD 404, also sponsored by Lockman, would have prevented the state from deducting from employees’ paychecks dues or representation fees owed by employees to their union. Currently, such payments are withheld from paychecks and given directly from the state to the union. The measure was defeated 90-51.
The second bill, LD 1319, by Rep. Karleton Ward, R-Dedham, sought to end the practice known as “union release time,” whereby state employees may leave work to conduct official union business while still receiving their usual salaries. The bill was defeated 86-56.
All the bills face additional votes in the House and Senate but, given their rejection in the Democrat-controlled House on Friday, they are all but certainly dead.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.