April 2, 2013

Two rebuked, as tempers flare at union bills hearing

A legislative hearing on bills to make Maine a right-to-work state turns contentious.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Labor and business interests squared off Monday over proposals to prohibit labor agreements from requiring workers to join unions or pay union dues as a condition of employment.

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Rep. James Campbell, an independent from Newfield, castigates Sen. Andre Cushing, a Republican from Hampden, during a hearing Monday about proposed right-to-work legislation. The Legislature's Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee considered two bills that would prohibit employee contracts from requiring union membership or payment of union dues.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Like debates over so-called right-to-work bills in other states, Monday's hearing before the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Committee was contentious, with members on opposite sides of the issue getting admonished by a co-chair for their treatment of speakers.

Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, is sponsoring two right-to-work bills, which are expected to go down to defeat, with Democratic majorities in Maine's House and Senate.

The issue has caused political battles in other states, including Michigan, which last week became the 24th right-to-work state.

Together, Lockman's bills would affect both public-sector and private-sector employees.

L.D. 831 would prohibit mandatory membership in a union or payment of union dues as a condition of employment.

L.D. 786 would eliminate a provision in state law that automatically deducts public-sector union dues from state workers' paychecks, regardless of whether they are members of the union.

"Simply put, workers should not be coerced into paying for services they don't want and didn't ask for," Lockman testified, citing economic benefits such as job growth in other right-to-work states.

Linda Anthony of Lisbon, a toll collector for the Maine Turnpike Authority, said she wants the option of not paying dues to the Maine State Employees Association. After she filed a grievance against the union for nonrepresentation, she said, she was bullied by members -- three times getting nails in her tires.

"I've worked in a hostile workplace for over a year," she said. "I can never terminate MSEA from being my agent under present law."

But Tim Belcher, counsel for the union, said in written testimony that under the proposals, nonunion employees who didn't pay dues would get the same benefit as those who chose to pay.

"The union represents all employees who share that community of interest, and is required to represent everyone in the bargaining unit, including nonmembers," Belcher said.

The Maine State Employees Association says it represents 12,000 state workers, including 2,500 who are not members but pay dues.

Under Lockman's bills, unions would have to represent only employees who pay dues. Rob Walker, executive director of the Maine Education Association, said in written testimony that having employees cut away from the union to make their own deals may raise the risk of employment discrimination lawsuits, if terms aren't comparable.

Assistant Senate Majority Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said employees who don't pay for union representation and "sit back and say, 'Gimme, gimme, gimme,' would get the best deal."

At different times, John Patrick, D-Rumford, the committee's Senate chairman, admonished two committee members. Rep. James Campbell, a liberal independent from Newfield, and Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, were the most vocal members on opposite sides of the issue.

After Gov. Paul LePage's economic adviser testified about seeing positive effects of right-to-work laws in Southern states while he was in the private sector, Campbell said, "If all that stuff was so great in those states you just mentioned, why didn't you just stay there?"

Patrick ruled Campbell out of order.

Three union groups, the Maine State Employees Association, the Maine Education Association and United Association Local 716, a plumbers' and pipefitters' union, donated $850 to Campbell's 2012 campaign -- 25 percent of his total -- through political action committees. Representatives of those unions testified against the bills on Monday.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Union bills

Do you support bills that would prohibit employee contracts from requiring union membership or payment of union dues?

Yes

No

View Results