AUGUSTA – Maine lawmakers heard testimony on Monday concerning Right-to-Work legislation that would make labor union membership voluntary for Maine workers. While proponents of the bill point to the economic benefits other states have seen after passing similar laws, union leaders and pro-union Democrats are not convinced.
“This proposal is inspired by principle and economics,” said Rep. Lawrence E. Lockman (R-Amherst), lead sponsor of L.D. 831, An Act To Prohibit Mandatory Membership in a Union or Payment of Agency Fees as a Condition of Employment.
“The principle is liberty. And the economic justification is being proven again and again as states that reject forced unionism flourish,” said Lockman.
John Butera, senior economic advisor to Gov. Paul R. LePage, told the Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development that the Governor supports the bill because of the clear economic benefit other states have seen following passage of similar proposals.
“This bill is about two things: freedom and opportunity,” said Butera.
“It’s about the freedom to decide on one’s own volition whether the union is providing value and the opportunity for Maine to compete for quality investment and jobs.”
“Companies do in fact look at whether a state is right to work. I’ve sat in boardrooms where CEOs and presidents have said point blank: they will not invest in states that are not right to work,” said Butera. “Capital goes where it is welcome and stays where it is appreciated.”
Butera cautioned that making Maine a right to work state is not a silver bullet for economic troubles.
“Becoming a right-to-work state is just one piece of the puzzle Maine must address if we wish to become competitive,” said Butera. “We need to make the tough choices that position us for success,” he said. “In short, we need to make Maine competitive.”
Greg Mourad, vice president of National Right to Work Committee (NRWC), said the more than 4,000 Mainers who donate to NRWC support right to work legislation like L.D. 831.
“Right to work simply guarantees working men and women in Maine the right to decide for themselves whether a labor union deserves their financial support,” said Mourad.
“Under current law in Maine, employees who never requested union representation can be forced to accept a labor union as their exclusive bargaining agent,” said Mourad. “Then, adding insult to injury, they can be forced to pay for representation they never requested and do not want,” he said.
“Despite what you may have heard from Maine’s union leaders, federal law does not require them to represent all workers,” said Mourad. “They are perfectly free under federal law to negotiate a contract that only sets terms and conditions for their own voluntary members,” he said.
“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,” said Mourad. “By exercising this power, they forbid individual workers to represent themselves.”
Opponents of Lockman’s right to work legislation testified that right to work laws do not bring economic benefits to the states that pass them and said right to work proponents are simply out to bust the unions.
Rep. Stanley Byron Short (D-Pittsfield), who called himself something of a former “union boss,” testified against L.D. 831.
“It is my belief that this anti-union legislation was introduced because there are a small number of legislators who believe organized labor is responsible for Maine’s economic troubles,” said Short. “But I believe this is because of anti-union legislation passed in southern states,” he said.
He said companies have fled non-right to work states like Maine in favor of southern states in search of lower wages. “It is not organized labor that is at fault for our present state of affairs,” he said. “Much of the blame falls on legislators who have passed anti-union bills.”
Maine AFL-CIO Executive Director Matt Schlobohm said right to work laws don’t entice companies to come to our state. He said companies are more interested in the quality of our education system.
“I think it fails to pass the straight face test that employers are going to decide to come to the state of Maine based on whether a state has [right to work laws] or not,” said Schlobohm. “I think there is a lot of junk science out there,” he said.
“Scratch away the rhetoric of individual liberty and you’ll see the goal of these bills to destroy the union,” said Schlobohm. “It is disingenuous to overstate the impact these laws have on the economy,” he said.
He said the states that have passed right to work laws have done so not for the economic benefits but for “ideological reasons.”
“Unions disproportionately support Democratic candidates. That’s obvious,” said Schlobohm.
Carol Weston, Maine state director of Americans For Prosperity (AFP) and former Republican representative of Montville, testified in support of Lockman’s bill.
She said the economic benefits of becoming a right to work state are undeniable.
“Right to work states are growing in population, they’re growing in wages, and they’re growing in productivity,” said Weston. She added that right to work states have created jobs at a substantially faster pace than forced unionism states over the past decade.
She said that in states with right to work laws significantly fewer individuals are enrolled in welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). “In right to work states, 7.65 out of every 1,000 residents are on TANF. By contrast, in states like Maine that do not have a right to work law, 18.44 out of every 1,000 residents are on TANF,” she said. “That’s a substantial difference.”
According to information from multiple federal agencies, reduced dependency on anti-poverty programs is but one area where right to work states excel relative to states where forced unionism is permissible.
Private sector job growth in right to work states was 5.5 percent higher from 2000-2010 than other states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real per capita growth domestic product (GDP) in right to work states grew by 10 percent from 2000-2010 but only 8 percent in other states, and real disposable income grew 2.5 percent faster during the same period.
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming have all passed right to work legislation similar L.D. 831.
By S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter