Defending Mainers' Right to Organize

On June 2nd, hundreds of union workers from the public and private sectors protested at the State House in Augusta to oppose LD 309, a bill that supporters called “Right to Work” but that MPA and our allies recognized as an assault on Maine workers and their right to collective bargaining. Workers, side by side with MPA volunteers and community members from all over the state gathered in the Hall of Flags and chanted, “Kill the Bill!”

The Republican-backed legislation, “An Act To Make Voluntary Membership in a Public Employee Labor Organization in the State,” would eliminate the “fair share” requirement for state workers during collective bargaining negotiations by amending the State's labor laws to guarantee that each public sector union represents only those public employees who choose to become union members.

Majority Republicans in the House and Senate pushed the amended bill into a rushed public hearing on June 2nd, but on the following Monday members of the Committee on Commerce, Research and Economic Development (LCRED) voted to carry LD 309 over until the next legislative session beginning in January. Republicans argue that the decision to postpone LD 309 came after a late amendment to the bill created confusion during the June 2nd public hearing. However, Democrats and labor advocates said that the decision came after Republicans realized they didn't have the votes to support the bill.

LD309’s attack on the so-called “fair share” provision is important to understand. “Fair share” requires all employees to pay a fee, about $250 a year, to the unions even if they are not union members. The collected fees are transferred to unions to pay costs associated with representing non-union workers in salary negotiations and grievances. Nonunion workers receive all the benefits of collective bargaining, such as workplace protections and negotiated wages, while only paying roughly half of full union dues. If LD309 were to pass, it would significantly alter the balance of power in the collective bargaining process, shifting more authority and control to the management side and away from the workers, meanwhile repealing 50 years of settled federal and state labor laws. The Committee’s decision to delay the bill took the wind from the sails of Governor Paul LePage’s extreme agenda to weaken and discredit Maine’s labor movement and workers’ rights.

If LD 309 were to pass, Maine workers' ability to negotiate with their employers over working conditions and wages would be weakened considerably. “LD 309 will do nothing to put Mainers back to work or build our local economies,” said Lewiston Mayor and Maine People’s Alliance member Larry Gilbert at the June 2nd rally in Augusta. “Federal law says that unions have to represent all workers regardless if they are part of a union. So, it’s only right that they pay a fair share of negotiated costs that benefit all the workers.”

Another anti-worker bill that caused much debate both inside and outside of the State House was LD788, “An Act To Prohibit Forced Payment of Labor Union Dues or Fees by Workers.” LD 788 would give private sector workers the opportunity to decide whether or not to join labor unions and would prohibit employers from deducting fees from non-union employees. Thankfully, this bill died in the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee after escalating amounts of public protest, grassroots pressure and citizen lobbying.

Many opponents of LD 309 and LD 788 argue that there are similarities that exist in both bills. “309 and 788, the right to work bill, are the exactly the same,” said Chris Quint, Executive Director of the Maine State Employees Union. “One impacts the public sector, one impacts private sector. They both require that union and management sit down together to negotiate contracts.”