It’s a shame some people think you can’t be pro-union and pro-freedom at the same time, because they’re wrong.

Part of my 41-year work history was spent in management positions, so I couldn’t join a union then – but every single day I was eligible to belong to one, I did, for a period totaling over 50 percent of my journalistic career.

Yet I have no doubt that if Maine were to pass L.D. 489, “An Act To Ensure the Right To Work without Payment of Dues or Fees to a Labor Union as a Condition of Employment,” the state and its workforce would be better off.

Most people arguing for “right-to-work” laws start with the job growth they bring, but what also makes them highly appealing is that they put the right to choose whether to belong to a union (or to have to pay “fees” in lieu of membership) back in the hands of the individual worker, where it belongs.

So it was heartening to read that Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a right-to-work law in the Badger State last weekend, making it the 25th state in the nation to protect its workers’ freedom.

Half the country, including other Midwestern industrial states like Michigan and Indiana, have joined the right-to-work ranks, and the next state will make it a majority.

Though one Wisconsin Democratic lawmaker said the move was aimed “to crush the unions,” such laws do not bar unions in any way.

If unions can persuade workers to join them of their own free will, they can. All the legal protections against management pressure on that decision remain in place.

And if people asked me if they should join a union, my response would be that doing so in a privately owned company is likely a good thing.

That’s much less true for public-sector unions, however. In private industry, bargaining takes place between genuinely competing interests under federal rules, and thus there is a good chance a fair deal will be struck.

In the public sector, however, unions routinely use their dues to support candidates who favor them, in effect choosing their own bosses.

The sweetheart deals that often result give public workers generous salaries and benefits (and especially pensions) as a quid pro quo for union campaign donations.

The poor taxpayers, who often have no one at the table to represent their interests, are left on the hook for soaring personnel costs for years or decades – and sometimes even generations.

That was the way state worker pensions in Maine were trending until Gov. LePage and Republican legislators finally put a lid on out-of-control costs a few years back.

A Gallup poll last August reported that “a slim majority of Americans, 53 percent, approve of labor unions, although approval remains on the low end of Gallup’s nearly 80-year trend on this question. Approval has been as high as 75 percent in the 1950s. Currently, 38 percent disapprove of unions.”

But only 10 percent of respondents said they were union members, and Americans “widely support right-to-work laws. … 71 percent of Americans said they would ‘vote for’ a right-to-work law if they had the opportunity to do so, while 22 percent said they would vote against such a law.”

Gallup said support for right-to-work laws includes a surprising 65 percent of Democrats, a stalwart 74 percent of Republicans and a whopping 77 percent of independents.

So, as Investor’s Business Daily said in a March 9 editorial, “Don’t be surprised if we see similar right-to-work victories in the months ahead in states like West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky (where many counties already have their own laws) and possibly Missouri. Jobs are created at twice the pace in right-to-work states.”

Supporting that claim, Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative state think tank, cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics last May 29 in noting that, “Since 1990, nearly all of the top 10 states for job growth are right-to-work states, while nearly all of the 10 states with the least amount of job growth are non-right-to-work states.”

“Progressive” sources note that average wages are lower in right-to-work states, but the difference, as disclosed in a prominently cited study by the Economic Policy Institute, turns out to be just 3 percent.

For many workers, the question then becomes, “Would you rather have a job here paying 3 percent less than in other states – or would you rather live there and run a higher risk of not having a job at all?”

Still, we can expect Maine’s Democratic lawmakers to oppose L.D. 489, although Gallup has shown that most Democrats disagree with them – and although the bill would increase Mainers’ freedom and likely boost the state’s workforce.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

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