Rep. Terry M. Hayes (D-Buckfield) said Tuesday she is supporting right-to-work legislation introduced by Rep. Lawrence E. Lockman (R-Amherst) that would prevent the state employee unions from collecting agency fees from state workers who exercise their constitutional right to refuse union membership.
Lockman’s proposal, An Act to Ensure the Voluntary Membership of Public Employees in Unions (LR 1367), would repeal two laws passed during the Baldacci administration that not only forced non-union state employees to pay fees to the union, but also caused the state to collect these fees from the paychecks of state employees.
The bipartisan measure will be co-sponsored by Sen. Andre E. Cushing (R-Hampden) and several other GOP representatives.
“Public employees should not be forced to join a union as a condition of employment or pay agency fees,” said Hayes, who has been a dues-paying member of the top state employee unions – the Maine Education Association (MEA) and the Maine State Employees Association (MSEA).
“The unions should have to market themselves, their services, to potential members rather than bypassing collective bargaining by using the legislature,” said Hayes. “The unions have been using the legislature like an end-around for years,” she said.
Hayes said she would like to see more issues resolved by labor and management through productive collective bargaining rather than through legislative command. “I would like to see the union’s services be so good that employees choose to join as opposed to being forced,” she said.
Although Hayes said that non-union employees should not be coerced into paying dues, she disagrees with part of Lockman’s bill that would eliminate the union’s obligation to represent non-member employees. She said she is concerned about how non-union employees of the state would negotiate contracts and address grievances. Hayes said the obligation to represent all employees stems from a National Labor Relations Board requirement that would supersede the actions of the state legislature. “That rule comes from on high,” she said.
Lockman, however, said unions should not be forced to represent non-members just as non-members should not be forced to give money to the unions. He said the issue likely falls under the jurisdiction of the Maine Labor Relations Board.
“Collective bargaining is not a right, it is a privilege, a grant of monopoly to the unions,” said Lockman. “The reason the unions represent every employee is because they demand an exclusive monopoly on collective bargaining,” he said. “They use this monopoly to bully non-members.”
“My problem is, if the unions are still obligated to represent non-members, then you have a free-rider problem,” said Lockman. He said taking away the unions’ obligations to non-members removes their only valid reason for coercing non-union employees into paying agency fees.
Lockman said the purpose of his bill is to correct an injustice that began in 2005 when MSEA representatives persuaded Gov. John Baldacci that non-members should pay fees to the union because non-members implicitly benefit from the union’s existence. The retooled MSEA contract was placed into the state budget and passed during an all-night session of the Appropriations Committee. The result of compulsory agency fees, according to some reports, was a $700,000 windfall for MSEA.
Two years later the MSEA complained that non-members were not paying their mandated fees. So the Democratic majority passed a law requiring the state to deduct the fees from state employees’ paychecks on behalf of the union.
“The legislature effectively turned the state into a revenue collection agency for the union,” said Lockman. “What other private corporation – and the unions are corporations – has the state for a collections agent?” said Lockman.
Hayes said she intends to voice both support and criticism when she testifies on behalf of Lockman’s bill at the yet-to-be-scheduled hearing, but that she doesn’t expect anything she says will be compelling for her colleagues in the Democratic Party.
“Nothing I say will persuade Democrats to come on board,” said Hayes. “They are not open to new analysis on this subject,” she said.
“The bulk of Democrats – including leadership – will reject this bill out of hand. They won’t even read it,” said Hayes. “I think union leadership has made it known to Democratic leadership that one of their priorities is to defeat this,” she said.
“This is not a criticism, this is just reality,” said Hayes.
Lockman said that representatives from MSEA have inflated their membership statistics in the past when addressing the legislature in public committee hearings. He said during a recent hearing an MSEA spokesman pegged union membership at 15,000 state workers while 2,000 declined to belong to the union.
“I requested information from their office after that meeting,” said Lockman. “And they told me their membership was actually nearly 12,000 and that there were 2,600 non-members,” he said. “This means that roughly 20 percent of state employees don’t want anything to do with the union but still have to pay fees to it.”
Lockman said many state employees have already contacted him about his bill–which should become available to the public this week–and they are enthusiastic about testifying on its behalf.
Lockman said he was encouraged by support from state workers and by Hayes’ willingness to co-sponsor right to work legislation, but like his colleague across the aisle he knows reforming state worker unions under Democratic leadership will be difficult.
“The Maine Democratic Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the labor unions,” said Lockman. “When the unions say jump, the Democrats jump,” he said.
But despite the Majority’s relationship with organized labor, Lockman said his bill has a chance to pass because the landscape in America has shifted greatly.
“Indiana passed right to work legislation a year ago. Michigan passed theirs last December. Scott Walker was reelected as Governor of Wisconsin after pushing collective bargaining reforms there. Then you have the Hostess strike where labor conflicts cost Mainers jobs,” said Lockman.
“And, broadly speaking, right to work states have recovered faster since the so-called Great Recession,” said Lockman. “Lots of companies won’t even consider coming to Maine because we’re not a right to work state,” he said.
“I’m giving Democrats a chance to get on the right side of history,” he said.
By S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter