AUGUSTA – It has been a distinct honor to have had the opportunity to hear the concerns of Maine’s working people for the past six years serving on the state’s Labor Committee.

We must not allow the new Republican majority to eliminate this committee, where so many working families go to make their voices heard in the halls of power.

In this committee room we hear from single mothers who, while working two jobs to make ends meet, believe they deserve fair and equal pay.

We hear from forest workers in Aroostook County who believe they should have a fair shot against foreign labor to work in Maine woods.

We hear from small-business owners and contractors who believe that fair workers’ compensation standards should be applied across the board to level the playing field on bids and to prevent a race to the bottom on quality of work.

Our committee hears the voices of working Mainers from across the state — no matter where they come from. And the Maine State Labor Committee has been doing so, in one form or another, since 1887.

This committee oversees policies and procedures that impact Maine’s entire civilian workforce of more than 700,000 men and women.

Working families need a place to be heard that is separate from and equal to the voice of business.

They need a place to be heard where neither their voice nor the voice of their employers is marginalized to favor the other.

While working people often have divergent concerns from business owners, they have strong common goals: to grow jobs, grow our economy and increase our state’s prosperity.

As co-chair of the committee for the past four years, I am proud of our record of working to address the concerns of workers and businesses — not at the expense of either.

During the past two legislative sessions, we passed 100 unanimous bills to the floor for consideration by the full Legislature.

That means that 100 of the bills we reviewed had full support from both the Republicans and Democrats on the committee.

Last session, our work even drew praise from the Chamber of Commerce. In its newsletter to members, the Chamber said, “The committee looked to strike a moderate chord as a result the most contentious legislation ended up favorably for the business community.”

The business community has strong representation at Labor Committee hearings and work sessions.

Eliminating the Labor Committee and transferring much of its work to the Business Research and Economic Development Committee will add an enormous workload to a committee that already is at capacity.

When you double the workload without doubling capacity or time, things get missed; and working Mainers and businesses will suffer because of it.

Maine is prosperous when it has a vibrant, secure middle class — and that middle class relies on many of the Labor Committee’s issues to maintain that economic security.

These issues include workplace safety, workplace rights, unemployment insurance, the state’s retirement system, the minimum wage, equal pay for women and workers’ compensation.

Maine is one of 22 states with a legislative committee whose focus is on labor issues. Many of the states where there is no such policy committee have lower wages and fewer protections in the workplace to safeguard those who show up to work each day.

Republicans ran their campaigns on a theme of “putting people first” and growing jobs. This move accomplishes neither.

Eliminating the Labor Committee will not create jobs; it only will hurt and disadvantage those who are seeking them.

Join me in telling the new Republican leadership in Augusta that Maine’s working families need the Labor Committee. Contact the House Republican Office at 287-1440 and the Senate Republican Office at 287-1505.