April 24, 2013

Maine Democrats defeat two right-to-work bills

The proposals to prohibit mandatory union membership now go to the Senate.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Majority Democrats in the House on Wednesday dealt the first blow to two proposals that would prohibit labor agreements from requiring workers to join unions or pay union dues as a condition of employment.

The House voted mostly along party lines to defeat the so-called right-to-work bills. Members voted 92-53 to defeat L.D. 831, a bill prohibiting mandatory membership in a union or payment of union dues as a condition of employment. They defeated L.D. 786, a similar proposal affecting public-sector unions, 89-56.

The public-sector bill was amended in committee to relieve the state of responsibility for ensuring -- through payroll deduction -- that state employees who decline union membership pay a portion of union dues to the Maine State Employees Association.

Dues for such workers would be less than regular union dues but designed to cover the expenses the union incurs during collective bargaining.

The bills, which now go to the Senate, were submitted by Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst.

They would make Maine the only right-to-work state in New England.

Nationally, there are 24 right-to-work states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of the laws were enacted in the 1940s and 1950s, though four states have enacted the provisions since 1985.

The LePage administration currently supports right-to-work legislation. However, the administration struggled to advance two identical proposals when Republicans held legislative majorities in 2011 and 2012.

An analysis of data by The Wall Street Journal in December said right-to-work laws cut both ways: While those states have more jobs, wages are lower.

It said private employment grew nearly 5 percent in right-to-work states in the preceding three years, compared with nearly 4 percent in other states.

But private-sector wages in right-to-work states were nearly 10 percent lower than in other states in the preceding year, the newspaper said.

The Congressional Research Service, Congress' nonpartisan research arm, cited similar findings in a report in December, including a unionization rate more than 50 percent lower in right-to-work states.

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