M.D. Harmon: Ending forced union dues should be "high on list of pressing issues" for GOP


The worldview that says it’s a good idea to force others to contribute to private causes that they oppose appears to be more popular in Maine than in many other places.

The current example is a bill submitted to the Legislature last year that was held over to the present session and came up for a public hearing April 4: LD 309, an anti-forced-unionism measure otherwise known as a “right-to-work” law.

Such laws are hardly unique; they are found in 23 states, most of them in the Rockies, the Midwest and the South. The most recent state to pass an RTW law was Indiana, which barred unions from charging fees to unwilling workers in February.

Yet, no Northeast state has such a statute, probably because unions are particularly strong above the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Great Lakes. But “strong” is a relative term; union membership as a percentage of the workforce has been declining steadily for decades.

Private-sector unions now represent less than 7 percent of the workforce (unions are more prevalent in the public sector, where 37 percent of workers are represented).

Overall, unions represent 11.8 percent of the workforce, down a tenth of a percentage point from 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January. In Maine, 11.1 percent of workers are members of a union or similar association.

The Taft-Hartley Act, which a Democratic president, Harry Truman, signed in 1947, prohibits employers from requiring union membership, and allows states (but not counties or municipalities) to ban compulsory union membership.

And the Supreme Court has held that in states where RTW laws are not in force, workers in union-represented workplaces may decline to pay those portions of union dues that are used for political activities, but may be made to pay “agency fees” that represent the costs of collective bargaining.

These “no free rider” laws are justified by unions on the grounds that such workers benefit from union advocacy and representation, but as has been pointed out by right-to-work defenders, no union has yet backed a law saying that it should be allowed to drop unwilling workers from its purview.

The dispute over such laws has both ideological and practical aspects, with RTW opponents saying such laws are designed to benefit employers by weakening unions as their principal purpose, and that they allow nonunion workers at represented workplaces to profit from wages and benefits negotiated by unions without paying for such representation.

They also point to studies that show that wages and benefit levels are higher in non-RTW states, while defenders of such laws note that business growth levels are higher in RTW states, meaning that more jobs are created there overall, even if employers are compensating those workers less on the average.

In addition, the laws’ defenders say that compulsory dues or fees are a violation of individual rights, forcing workers who do not support unions (which overall are strong supporters of the Democratic Party and liberal legislation having little or nothing to do with employment) to pay them substantial portions of their incomes against their will.

It’s quite possible that both sides are right in all the particulars of their separate arguments, so it all comes down to which set of talking points seems more persuasive.

To me, the assertion that someone else who is not a member of government has an automatic right to allocate the fruits of someone else’s labor is on its face unjust, unless there is prior agreement between the interested parties.

However, we live in a society where some people are perfectly willing to force others to assume such obligations by using the coercive power of government to compel them.

Indeed, they are often willing to force others to take on such obligations while resisting them themselves. (You did know that members of Congress are not covered by Obamacare, didn’t you? And that many unions have been given exemptions from health insurance costs imposed by the new law?)

And unions’ political goals go far beyond membership issues. Unions are the biggest givers to Democrats — which is their right, recently verified by the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision.

But they assert they should also have the right to force others to finance their political goals, and that is not only unfair, it is dictatorial.

Sadly, on so many issues, Maine’s Republicans appear to be only lukewarm where other states’ conservatives are strong and committed to meaningful reforms. The Press Herald story this week advancing Wednesday’s hearing cited Rep. Kerri Prescott of Topsham, House chair of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, as saying she supported LD 309, but it wasn’t “high on her list of pressing issues.”

And when the hearing took place, majority Republicans refused to even take a recorded vote on the bill, whose future is greatly in doubt. Just like last year.

Too often, conservatives and libertarians have gotten a do-nothing response to things they considered “high on their list of pressing issues,” to the point where they could ask, “How long will the people we elect to represent us shunt our views aside because the fight to achieve them might not be an easy one?”

More importantly, they may also ask, “Why do we continue to elect people who turn their backs on issues of personal liberty whenever they meet opposition from those for whom liberty takes a distant second place to financial gain and increased influence?”

We don’t know yet how this fight will turn out this time around. We do, however, hope that there might still be a fight — and not just a presumptive surrender.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at

About M.D. Harmon

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

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  1. Bill Peters

    April 7, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    Why should I, as a conservative government employee, have dues forcibly taken from my pay by a union that supports democrats?

    Democrats forced this law upon us and it is high time it were repealled! I would also say that every cent that was taken from us should be returned from these union thieves!

  2. Gayle Finkbeiner

    April 7, 2012 at 8:24 AM

    Excellent post Mr. Harmon.

    Other examples of GOP surrender to political intimidation or media-Democrat biased noise are the non-voting defeats of Photo ID, the continual tax funding of liberal hobby-horse MPBN, as well as the fore mentioned LD 309.

    The GOP never even gives its supporters the satisfaction of an up or down vote on these issues. The Democrats and liberals have attack dogs. The GOP has nice house-broken lap dogs, who want to be petted ( or at least not kicked) by the the P.C. “beautiful people” in the liberal controlled (Su$$man) Maine Stream Media.

  3. RM Russell

    April 7, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    Amen, Mr. Harmon! 
    Why should a person have to pay to work?After the years-long struggles Republicans have had in State government,  they should surely be aware of the grip the unions have on employers–school commitees,for one example– and how their rising salary and pension demands affect our economy.Are the Republicans suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome?The moderate Republicans should board the LePage bus ,the destination of which is  an economically healthy State of Maine!That’s why we voted them in!

  4. Ray

    April 7, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    I have been arguing against this since Baldacci put it in the budget and the Strimling enhanced it four years later.

    It is an issue of right and wrong … How Republicans can miss this point is beyond me.

    Oh wait, it is an election year and they somehow believe the Unions will be less harsh if they do not address this issue.

    That only happens in a world where Superman is a bad guy … and we know that is never gonna be

  5. Sea Dog

    April 8, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    You have ‘Dues’ forcibly taken from your pay?? Damn – I would be pissed off!! 

    –  Supreme Court Decision “Communications Workers V. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988) ruled that only ‘Agency Fees’ could be withheld from your pay.  –  The part which pays for the negotiations, etc for the pay and benefits you enjoy so you don’t freeload.

    You’re saying ‘Full Dues’ are being withheld??

  6. CrisEdwardJohnson

    April 12, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    For several days the MaineWire has criticized Maine Today Media for failing to publish a piece of political commentary. Please note that I posted the following comment to this article on April 6 but it disappeared. I think it is important to have a balance in commentary so I am re-posting it:

     A bit of history (as opposed one man’s “world view”) is in order.

    Strained labor relations following WWII threatened the fabric of
    American society. Wildcat strikes and violent clashes between workers
    and industrialists who had reaped profits during the war created the worst labor relations environment since the Civil War.
    The Labor–Management Relations Act of 1947 (Taft-Hartley) was a
    government response to restrain both labor and management excesses which
    amended the 1935 Wagner Act. Harry Truman did not sign the
    Taft-Hartley Act. He felt that it went too far in constraining worker’s
    rights to bargain collectively and to protest unfair wages and working
    conditions (i.e. – it limited their constitutional rights to free speech
    and assembly). The bill was passed by Republicans over his veto.
    It should also be noted that the advocacy for Right to Work provisions
    arose not from workers dismayed by having to contribute to the cost of
    representation, but from employers looking for tools to marginalize the
    voice of workers at the bargaining table. Though LD 309 appears
    to be a piece of legislation central to Governor LePage’s new vision
    for Maine, it has foundered in the legislature not because of Democrat
    opposition, but because it simply does not have support, even from the
    Republican majority.

  7. Dlbrt

    May 3, 2012 at 7:42 AM

    I want a “Right To Invest” law!

    I am being forced to contribute to GOP campaigns against my will because I have invested money in corporations that support the GOP Candidates!

  8. Dlbrt

    May 3, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Why? Because you are being represented in negotiations so you are being charged a fee for services rendered!

    Do you complain at the grocery store for having to pay for the gallon of milk that you bought?

    Man up and pay you dues for services rendered or expect a collection agency to come knocking at your door!

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