On Thursday, hundreds of union supporters packed into the State House to stump for higher wages and voice their anger towards right-to-work proposals that could threaten unions.
This comes as part of a broader effort by labor groups to increase their influence with the new legislature after losing much ground in this past November’s elections.
The Democratic Party, a traditionally strong supporters of unions, lost control of the Senate after dropping four seats, and it also saw its majority in the House fall by eight seats.
“Our message was not good the last election cycle,” said Patrick Carleton, Vice-President of the Maine AFL-CIO. Carleton said unions are now focused on creating jobs, reducing income inequality, and promoting economic security.
But Matt Schlobohm, Executive Director of the Maine AFL-CIO said their number one priority is killing right-to-work bills that would stop unions from imposing mandatory fees on employees.
Currently, unions are allowed to impose mandatory dues on employees, which can then be put towards political or lobbyist activities.
Those who support right-to-work legislation point out that it would give employees the freedom to choose whether to financially support unions, and would afford them additional economic security.
But opponents, including union groups and many Democrats, claim this is simply a political move designed to weaken the power of unions.
Although labor groups were some of the highest spenders this last election cycle, they maintain that their political strength comes not from their financial assets, but from their ability to mobilize large numbers of union members.
“It’s strength in numbers. That’s our leverage,” said Schlobohm. He claimed that they owe their successes to their ability to persuade workers from every district to travel to Augusta to speak with elected-officials, and educate them on the most important legislative issues.
The groups also voiced disdain for what they see as high CEO wages, with State Sen. John Patrick (D-Rumford) promising to put forth a bill that would require some of the biggest Maine companies to reveal the difference between the pay of their lowest-paid employee and their chief executive officer.