NORTHEAST HARBOR – Maine consistently ranks high in quality of life. However, for the past three years, Maine has ranked last on Forbes Magazine’s “best states to do business” list.
This is unsurprising considering Maine has the second-highest corporate tax burden and the third-lowest productivity per worker in the nation, and a shrinking economy and population.
Worse, our legislators recently had an opportunity to help restore Maine’s competitiveness, and squandered it.
Two bills, L.D. 831 and L.D. 786, sponsored by Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, were shot down in committee, despite bipartisan support.
These bills would have ended compulsory dues in both public- and private-sector unions, making Maine the 25th right-to-work state in America.
There is nothing wrong with unions if they provide enough benefit to workers to justify voluntary collection of dues. But when union dues are made compulsory, that attacks personal freedoms and distorts the labor market, making business uncompetitive.
Though no employee can be required to join a union, in many states, like Maine, an employee can be forced to pay union dues or be fired.
Workers should not have to pay for the privilege of going to work. Compulsory dues are an added, and often unnecessary, tax on workers. In 2011, unions collected $14 billion from workers’ paychecks, much of which was spent on political activities to maintain power.
Since 1962, unions have gained excessive protection from politicians who benefit from their fundraising and voter organization capabilities.
Our constitutionally protected freedom of association means workers should not be forced to fund these activities.
Maine can no longer afford to grant unions protection from competition. We are currently in a low-growth, hypercompetitive economic climate where efficiency and productivity matter greatly; unions do not increase either.
Unions are a monopoly that distorts labor markets by restricting supply to push wages above marginal product levels.
These cartels, exempt from antitrust laws, make employers less competitive, with workers ironically often bargaining themselves out of a job.
As the price of labor goes up, employers will purchase less of it, equaling fewer jobs.
This makes everyone else worse off: non-union workers, consumers, employers, taxpayers and the jobless. Right-to-work laws are not just about the unions, they are about all of us.
There has been a migration of corporations from compulsory union states to right-to-work states.
Wages in right-to-work states grew four times faster, private sector payroll increased three times faster, and the private sector economic growth was 4.9 percent, versus 3.9 percent in non-right-to-work states.
Over a 10-year period, that is 15 percent more growth. To the Maine economy that could be $7.4 billion. Based on jobs per gross domestic product growth for the previous three years, that would add more than 56,000 jobs. This is the difference between our children being able to stay in Maine, and having to leave to find a job.
Opponents of right-to-work laws will say they mean the “right-to-work for less.” It is true that average wages are 10 percent lower in right-to-work states, but if you factor in their costs of living, they are actually 4 percent higher in purchasing power.
It is far preferable to live in a place with higher employment than with fewer people making higher wages.
A Brookings Institution study indicated right-to-work laws had lost their effectiveness, citing statistics showing corporate migration to right-to-work states has slowed in the past five years.
More likely, companies did not have had the capital to relocate during the recession.
Also, the national political environment has been hostile to such moves, as was the case of the federal effort to keep Boeing from building a 787 plant in worker-friendly South Carolina.
Unions have an important job of protecting workers from unfair treatment. If protection is necessary, workers will choose to pay dues.
The only people who have an incentive to keep forced unionism are union bosses, whose wages are paid by the hard work of employees, and politicians, who receive their donations for protection.
The legislative committee members should have at least given these bills a fair vote. Maine is a wonderful state that people want to live in — if they can find a job.
Matthew Bucklin of Northeast Harbor grew up in a Maine-based family business, C.E. Bucklin & Sons, Inc. He is a graduate of Colby College and founder of Quit Tea LLC, registered in Maine.