Maine Republicans' renewed push to pass right-to-work legislation faces tough odds

Associated Press

Maine Republicans are making another push to pass right-to-work legislation, but even Gov. Paul LePage acknowledged Monday that the effort faces tough odds.

LePage said on the WVOM's George Hale and Ric Tyler show that his administration will fight just as hard as he has before, but he doesn't "hold a lot of hope" the Legislature will approve the law that bars employers from requiring employees to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment.

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"In order to win battles, you have to have courage and I'm not seeing it," LePage said.

Efforts to make Maine a right-to-work state have failed repeatedly, even when Republicans held both chambers in 2011.

This year, Republicans control the Senate, but Democrats who hold the majority in the House are expected to block the legislation, which they say would undermine workers' rights and drive down wages.

Republican Rep. Larry Lockman said it's time for Maine to join the 25 other states that have adopted laws guaranteeing "workplace freedom."

"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 for good-paying jobs," he told the Labor, Research, Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

LePage's administration says Maine is missing out on opportunities to bring businesses here because employers prefer right-to-work states.

But several lawmakers on the committee dismissed that idea and said things like energy costs play a much bigger role in an employers' decision on where to locate.

The committee also considered several other bills that opponents called an "attack" on unions, including a measure to repeal the law that allows public employers to deduct service fees from employees' pay in lieu of union dues. Another seeks to ensure that private contractors hired by public employers, like schools, aren't subject to collective bargaining negotiations.

Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, called the bills the "most far-reaching legislative effort to undermine collective bargaining rights and unions that we have seen in recent Maine history."

Jeff Barry, a teacher at York High School, said the most troubling thing about the proposals is supporters' inability to prove why they're necessary.

"I've sat in this committee room for six hours today, and I've yet to hear a single compelling reason why these bills are needed — not one that can't be clearly demonstrated to be faulty in its logic or lacking significant evidentiary support — precisely the kind of thing we expect of high school students across this state," he said.

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