AUGUSTA, Maine — A divided House on Wednesday shot down two Republican-supported bills that aimed to make Maine the 25th state with “right to work” laws on the books.
House members rejected the bills, LD 786 and LD 831, largely along party lines. They now head to the Senate.
LD 831, which House members rejected 92-53, 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. House members rejected that bill 89-56.
Debate on the House floor largely reflected the partisan tensions that emerged during a public hearing on the bills held at the start of the month. Democrats characterized the legislation as separate attempts to undermine unions while Republicans said the bills presented needed policy changes that would make Maine more competitive economically and attractive to business owners.
“These so-called right-to-work measures are fundamentally an assault on Maine’s workers and economy,” said Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the House majority leader. “They drive down workers’ pay. We’ve rejected measures like this in the past because we refuse to join a race to the bottom.”
“I think the 50,000 Mainers that don’t have jobs would rather work for less than not work at all,” said Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel. “If we continue down the road that we’re going, we won’t have jobs for those 50,000 people that are unemployed. When big manufacturers come to Maine and look at Maine and they ask, ‘Are you right-to-work?’ and we say, ‘No,’ they say, ‘Goodbye,’ and they go to a right-to-work state.”
The debate 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. Republicans noted that Michigan quickly followed suit in becoming the 24th right-to-work state late last year after neighboring Indiana passed similar legislation earlier in 2012.
Democratic 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 gross domestic product.
Republican Rep. Lawrence Lockman of Amherst sponsored both pieces of legislation.
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.
During debate on LD 786, Republicans said they objected to a system in which state workers who choose not to join a union are still compelled to pay the union to bargain on their behalf. Plus, they said, Maine state government collects those dues and remits them to the union.
“The Legislature has granted them a corporate monopoly to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment,” said Lockman. “If 51 percent of the workers in a bargaining unit vote to be represented by a union, the union demands exclusive bargaining power to negotiate on behalf of all employees, including the 49 percent who voted against the union.”
And the added dues state employee unions collect from non-members, Lockman said, free up resources for the unions to spend on political campaigns.
“The idea that you take money compulsorily from public employees and you use that to retain power and maintain power would have been understood by every single political boss regardless of their stripes in the 19th century,” said Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington.
Democrats, however, said it’s reasonable to expect unions to be able to collect their “fair share” to represent employees who aren’t members. The “fair share” is a percentage of full union dues that relates directly to employee representation.
“Why is it that paying for the service they have provided for you such a bad thing?” asked Rep. Joshua Plante, D-Berwick.
The right-to-work 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. Gov. Paul LePage has thrown his support behind Lockman’s two bills.