Anti-union push begins again in Maine Legislature

Anti-union push begins again in Maine Legislature

Two anti-union bills sponsored by Republican Representative Larry Lockman are now in the hands of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development (LCED) committee, on which Lockman sits, for its consideration. The proposed legislation, almost identical in language to bills that have been voted down in successive sessions by both chambers, aim to make Maine the 28th “right to work” state in the nation.

“How many times do we have to fight this?” said Al Shepard, treasurer of IBEW Local 567 in Lewiston. “This is a protracted attack on workers by a handful of the GOP. They’ve got bigger issues than this to be dealing with.”

Per the language as filed on January 11, the first, LD 65, would bar any public or private employer from making union membership a condition of employment for prospective or current workers. A violation would be a Class D crime, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The second, LD 66, targets non-federal public employee unions specifically. Currently, public employers can deduct service fees from employees (including non-union employees) for collective bargaining done on their behalf to pay the bargaining agents. This bill would effectively allow a non-union employee to benefit from successful bargaining efforts without having to pay for those efforts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77,000 Mainers are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Of those, 65,000 are union members. This would mean the 12,000 non-union members could enjoy the wage and safety benefits negotiated by unions for free, thus making union membership more expensive for those who remain. Not surprisingly, this doubling down of disincentives cripples the power of unions.

But that’s not all for LD 66:  New for 2017 is a statute that would make it a Class C crime (up to 5 years and $5,000 fine) for using a state government computer to “prepare materials with the intent to expressly advocate[…] for the election or defeat of any candidate” for any office, from municipal to federal. This also includes efforts to promote legislators to leadership positions in the State Senate and House.

“These so-called Right to Work bills have one purpose and that is to weaken unions in Maine and across the country,” said Cynthia Phinney, Maine AFL-CIO president, in a statement. “The extremists pushing this agenda are trying to undo a collective bargaining system that that allows workers to have a voice and an organization on the job, and that helps improve wages, working conditions and security for Maine’s workers.”

A BLS study shows that employees in right to work states earn wages that are 12.1% lower than in other states; Census Bureau data also shows a 13.9% gap in median household income. Furthermore, a study by the Corporation for Enterprise Development indicated that just under 30% of jobs in right to work states are low-wage (below poverty threshold of $24,250 for a family of four), many of which are less than full-time and exempt from benefits. The CFED report showed that 22.6% of jobs in Maine fall into the low-wage category, the 19th lowest rate in the nation.

Sarah Bigney, communications coordinator for the Maine AFL-CIO, says that although they are waiting on the final printing of the bills in the coming weeks, the unions are prepared to fight another attempt at weakening workers’ rights.

“We’ll be ready to mobilize a big response,” she said. In addition to calling representatives and attending local meetings and committee hearings, the annual Labor Lobby Day is being planned for sometime in March.

Bigney cites strong bipartisan support for defeating similar bills in the past two legislative sessions. “And I hope that doesn’t change this time.”

The bills’ sponsor, Rep. Lockman, hopes she’s wrong.

“Every time we have this debate we gain ground,” Lockman told the Portland Press Herald in June 2015, after his previous effort was defeated. “I believe we are moving the ball down the field and Maine will soon be the next right-to-work state.”

His optimism, however, doesn’t jibe with voting trends. In 2013, the House turned down a similar pair of right-to-work bills by votes of 92-53 and 89-56; two years later, the counts were 90-52 and 90-51, netting a loss of 5 votes in favor. Support in the Senate went backward as well. In 2013, it voted 21-13 against each bill, and in 2015 the counts were 21-14 and 23-12 against, netting a loss of four votes. With no major partisan shifts resulting from the 2016 election, it would take a straight party-line Republican vote in the Senate plus a seismic shift in the Democrat-held House to clear both chambers.

Though unlikely, stranger things are happening every day in politics, and supporters of collective bargaining say vigilance is warranted.

“An attack on one union is an attack on all unions,” said Shepard of the IBEW. “We’re going keep fighting this as long as we have to. We’re not backing down.”

About author

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson 6 posts

Russell Wilson is a freelance writer based in Portland. He is a former educator and recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism.

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