AUGUSTA – Partisan sniping dominated debate in the Maine House on Wednesday, as Democrats decried a move by the Republican majority to send a controversial labor bill back to committee.

After Democrats’ attempt to kill the bill failed earlier in the day, the House voted along party lines to return L.D. 309 to the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee for a public hearing and vote.

Republicans said the move will allow for a fair and open debate on the bill, which would affect public-sector unions. An amendment to narrow the scope of the bill is expected to surface today. The current draft would significantly limit public-sector unions from negotiating effectively, say labor lobbyists.

“This bill as it’s currently drafted would not only eliminate what’s called the fair share provision for public sector workers, but this bill as it’s currently drafted would completely decimate 40 or 50 years of public sector labor law in this state,” said Chris Quint, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association.

“Fair share,” the fee that non-union members must pay unions for the collective bargaining they benefit from, is now in the Maine State Employees Association’s contract. It is considered separate from union dues. Union contracts cover all state workers, regardless of whether they are union members.

Opponents of the fee say it essentially forces workers to pay to support a union in which they don’t want membership.

Last week, L.D. 309 was set aside on the House floor, after being pulled out of committee for lack of action. Leaders from both political parties indicated that they expect the proposal to die, by direct vote or proceduraly.

On Wednesday, Democrats questioned why the bill, which first went to the labor committee in February, had not been scheduled for a public hearing earlier.

“This bill is a bad policy that has now taken a very circuitous route to go back to where it started in the first place, again, with no clear explanation why,” said House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono.

Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, said the situation is “due to various circumstances.”

“This bill ended up back on our calendar due to a requirement of the rules,” he said, adding that Wednesday’s vote was on whether to allow the public to weigh in on the measure.

Democrats accused Gov. Paul LePage of being the driving force behind the bill’s renewed push.

“It is my understanding that this is the result of the administration,” said Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake. “As a result of that attorney from New York or Washington or wherever he’s from, in order to pass this to prevent state employees from negotiating on their rights. So by passing this bill, they would not need to sit at the table to negotiate fair share and other issues.”

The LePage administration recently hired an attorney from New York with experience in labor negotiations to help it as it negotiates a new contract with the Maine State Employees Association, the largest state employees union.

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, said Martin was “mistaken, incorrect.”

“That is simply not true,” she said of his assertions.

A public hearing on the bill is expected to be scheduled for June 2.

MaineToday Media State House Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:
[email protected]