AMHERST — Now more than ever, it’s time for Maine to join the 25 other states where workers’ paychecks are protected from coerced payments to labor unions. It’s called right-to-work, and if we pass L.D. 489, Maine will be the first state in New England to guarantee workplace freedom in a state statute.

The underlying principle is personal freedom and individual liberty. Simply put, workers should not be forced to pay for something they don’t want and didn’t ask for.

Under current Maine law, employees who have never requested union representation can be forced to accept a labor union as their exclusive bargaining agent. Then, adding insult to injury, they can be forced to pay for representation they never requested and do not want.

That’s because federal law allows labor unions to engage in monopoly bargaining in workplaces where a simple majority of workers have requested union representation.

But Maine’s union bosses will never tell you that federal law does not require them to represent all workers. Labor unions are perfectly free under federal law to negotiate contracts that set the terms and conditions of employment only for their own voluntary members.

But instead of exercising this perfectly legitimate option, today’s union bosses consistently take advantage of the provisions of federal law that give them the tyrannical power to force every worker to submit to their monopoly representation.

By exercising this power, they forbid individual workers to represent themselves.

Then these same union officials turn around and falsely complain that since they represent nonpaying workers – the very same workers whose right to self-representation the union leaders just stripped away – they should be entitled to forced dues.

Fortunately, since 1947, federal law has allowed state legislatures to right this wrong by passing state right-to-work laws. In recent years, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin have joined the ranks of states that protect workers’ paychecks from plundering by the Big Labor monopoly.

Opponents of right-to-work argue that allowing workers to opt out of forced dues is a race to the bottom, and results in lower wages than in states that allow compulsory unionism. There’s only one problem with this claim: It’s not true.

Families in right-to-work states on average have several thousand dollars more a year in disposable income than families in non-right-to-work states. Adjusted for cost of living, wages are better in states that protect workplace freedom.

So why do entrepreneurs prefer right-to-work states? Why are manufacturing jobs moving from compulsory-unionism states to states that protect workers’ paychecks from union coercion?

One of the reasons is that successful businesses don’t want to be handcuffed by absurd and inefficient union work rules that drive up production costs.

Anyone who has ever worked in or around a union shop knows exactly what I’m talking about: Laborers are not allowed to pick up 2x4s; carpenters are not allowed to move wheelbarrows; millwrights are not allowed to change light bulbs; and welders are not allowed to empty the trash can in their workspace while waiting for another box of welding rods.

Hostess Brands was driven into bankruptcy in large measure because union bosses wouldn’t budge on work rules that required cake and bread products to be delivered to a single retail site using two separate trucks; the Teamsters decreed that Twinkies and Wonder Bread couldn’t ride on the same truck. Drivers weren’t allowed to load their own trucks, and the workers who loaded bread weren’t allowed to load cake.

A sweets driver serving a 7-11 store was forbidden from restocking shelves with bread products already delivered and waiting in the back; he had to call for a bread driver to swing by to handle that task.

Union-mandated restrictions on the company’s 5,500 distribution routes nationally made it unprofitable for Hostess to serve tiny outlets, yet the company was barred from using smaller, more streamlined – and nonunion – distributors.

Five hundred jobs were lost in Maine when the company shut down a little more than two years ago. An iconic American company that survived the Great Depression and World War II couldn’t survive under the thumb of the union bosses’ monopoly power to dictate insane work rules. In the end, it turns out that Twinkies are easier to digest than union work rules.

Let’s set Maine workers free from the shackles of compulsory unionism, and make our great state the first in New England to become a magnet for liberty-loving entrepreneurs and good-paying jobs.