A handful of Republican lawmakers joined the Democrats who control Maine's House of Representatives to deal a blow to the latest effort to have Maine join 25 other states with so-called "right-to-work" laws.
The House voted 90-52 against Republican Rep. Larry Lockman's bill after more than an hour of debate. The five independent and unenrolled members of the House plus 10 Republicans sided with Democrats to oppose the measure that would bar employers from requiring employees to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment.
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Arguing that big businesses prefer right-to-work states, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has long pushed for the law as a means of attracting investment to Maine. But even he has acknowledged that the measure is unlikely to pass, saying earlier this year that he doesn't believe lawmakers have the courage to do it.
Democrats have consistently rejected the bill, arguing it will weaken unions, which they say are essential to ensuring workers have fair wages and safe working conditions.
Rep. Erin Herbig, Democratic co-chairwoman of the Labor, Research, Commerce and Economic Development Committee, dismissed the notion that right-to-work laws play a key role in businesses' decision about where to locate.
"It simply does not pass the straight face test that a business would base its decision about whether or not to come to Maine based on whether or not it was legally permissible to negotiate a union security clause in a union contract," she said.
The House also rejected a bill introduced by Lockman that would prohibit public employers from deducting service fees from employees' pay in lieu of union dues.
Lockman told his colleagues that the law is really about "personal freedom and individual liberty" and that workers shouldn't be forced to pay for something they don't want and didn't ask for. He compared it to a business requiring all their employees to pay dues to the local chamber of commerce.
"I think it's safe to say that many employees — particularly Democrats — would object that the chamber doesn't represent their views and that nobody should be forced to finance a private corporation ... as a condition of employment," he said.
The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate.
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