Union advocates say amended right-to-work bill has insidious consequences

AUGUSTA — The legal counsel for Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that a controversial bill that would change the state's ability to collect fees from nonunion, public-sector workers would bring so-called "fair share" back to the negotiating table in collective-bargaining talks.

But labor advocates say the bill, LD 309, would tilt the scales against the Maine State Employees Association and other public-sector unions while repealing 50 years of settled federal and state labor laws.

Both sides presented their cases to the Legislature's Labor Committee during a public hearing that went well into the night. The hearing was initiated by the Republican majority's decision last week to reintroduce the bill after it languished in committee for several months.

The GOP's decision prompted a bitter partisan debate in the Legislature, as Democrats and labor advocates accused GOP lawmakers of doing LePage's "dirty work" after indicating that the right-to-work legislation would not be a priority this session.

Republicans say the amended version of LD 309 is no longer a "right-to-work" bill.

Nonetheless, the hearing drew right-to-work advocates. It also prompted more than 500 workers from the public and private sectors to descend on the State House to protest what they view as LePage's opening salvo against organized labor.

While LePage has vowed to go after right-to-work legislation, GOP lawmakers and the administration say LD 309 doesn't represent that effort.

The Senate on Thursday killed a companion right-to-work bill dealing with private-sector workers. The Senate Republican office announced the decision by saying right-to-work was "dead this session."

Labor advocates didn't buy it.

Joel Pitcher, a member of Local 6 at Bath Iron Works, was one of scores of private-sector union members who showed up for Thursday's rally. He said the decision to spike the private-sector bill was a ploy to get private unions like Local 6 to "disengage."

"It's divide and conquer, right?" Pitcher said. "They're basically saying, 'We'll take (public employees) first and come after (private) later.' ... We're ready to join the fight now."

During the public hearing, Dan Billings, LePage's legal counsel, said the bill was designed to reverse decisions under Democrat-controlled legislatures that forced the state to collect "fair share" fees from nonunion workers. 

The fees are collected by unions in exchange for representing nonunion workers in grievances and salary negotiations.

Opponents of fair-share say workers shouldn't be forced to pay unions fees because they're private organizations that support Democratic causes and candidates.

Fair-share proponents argue that nonunion workers receive the benefits of collective bargaining, such as workplace protections and negotiated wages, while paying roughly half of full union dues.

Nonunion state workers pay about $250 year in fair-share fees, or about $5 per week.

Republicans say there are more than 2,700 nonunion state workers. Rep. Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle, said the union's estimated annual fair-share collection of about $675,000 was a "windfall."

"There are people who are still paying the union who don't believe in the union, and the ideology," McKane said, telling committee members that unions are "partisan organizations ... whether you admit it in this open forum or not."

Labor advocates countered that the fair-share fee is calculated to pay only for representation in collective bargaining, not political activity.

Billings said Democrats and labor advocates shouldn't be surprised that the administration and the GOP-controlled Legislature would seek to repeal the fair-share provisions enacted between 2003 and 2007.

But Democrats on the panel wondered why the legislation had been reintroduced so late in the session. They grilled Billings about the timing of the bill, which if passed, could strengthen the administration's bargaining position with the MSEA.

GOP leaders indicated two weeks ago that the bills were likely headed to the scrap heap after pulling them from committee. After LD 309 was reintroduced last week, Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said the bills were pulled from committee because of "an administrative error."

Billings said Thursday that LePage was "not happy" that the bill had languished in committee and that the administration had recently engaged leadership about bringing it back.

He also acknowledged that Louis DiLorenzo, a New York labor attorney whom LePage last month hired at $295 an hour to help administration officials negotiate with the MSEA, had helped draft the amendment.

The administration contends the bill would bring fair-share back to the bargaining table. But labor advocates say LD 309 is much more insidious.

Jeff Young, a Brunswick labor attorney, told the committee that the bill should be called "The Full Employment Act for Labor Lawyers" because its provisions — which he said were unprecedented in any other state — would cause "confusion and chaos."

Young said the bill would also prohibit the collection of dues from union members after a contract expires. Because most collective-bargaining contracts go beyond the previous contract's expiration date, unions could be forced to accept "unacceptable terms."

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Robert Hemingway's picture

Unions

I have traveld the entire country and have seen too many union controled companies closed because of gread.I am against unions however if people benefit from from a union then they must pay.This should not pass the way it is written.There must be two groups for this to be fair to anyone.The ones not paying to be in the union can not be appart of any pay raises gotten by the union workers.They would need to negotiate their raises seperate from the union workers.I can imagine the responce from what I just said from the non union workers who want a free ride.If you want union raises then pay to be in the union.If you do not want the union raises then do not pay and receive no raise but to receive a raise that you exspect others to pay for you to get is simply wrong.This is not a fight about union verses non union this is a fight to get something for free.

 's picture

How about those that don't

How about those that don't want anything to do with unions, have to pay the fees, get bumped from their job because of seniority instead of quality of work or loose their job, because the union has bled the company into insolvency? Oh, of course the state unions don't fear the state going bankrupt, because we can just get taxed more to cover their cost.

RONALD RIML's picture

Then it's quite obvious they should

Start their own business.

 's picture

Perhaps the unions need to be

Perhaps the unions need to be required to become part owners in whatever company they want to be in. That way their view of reality would be more realistic. As far as, state unions, they finance the Democratic party and both co-create an atmosphere of negative business and negative individual & personal property rights, the same as any other communal society/organization does.

RONALD RIML's picture

You make a lot of 'Assumptions' there, Michael

You obviously have no knowledge of the 1st and 14th Amendment Constitional Rights which protect workers' activities of association and free speech which have allow the modern labor movement.

Your suggestion, if implemented, would immediately be found unconstitutional in court upon legal challenge.

Mike, I suggest you learn something of the legal bedrock of our Bill of Rights before you make such suggestions. Have you bothered attending any courses on Constitutional Law or American Government at the college level?

If Unions are denied 'free speech' - including that of making campaign donations, then all 'Associations' must be treated the same, such as the NRA, Republican Governor's Association, etc, etc..... That ain't gonna fly

Is that what you want???

 's picture

Does everyone that uses a gun

Does everyone that uses a gun that benefits from NRA lobbying to protect their rights have to pay NRA dues?Should they? Are there double standards in your logic? The Democrats have manipulated required union payments, through liberal judical appointments and legislation, over the last 50 years. Why is that? Could possibly be to guarantee the financial support for election time? I wonder how that works out fairly for individual citizens. In relation to the bill of rights, the unions can speak all they want, but no one that doesn't want to be a part of them should not be cohearsed into paying them and in doing so be funding any political party. The benefits of union negotiations always get presented like there are no negative consequences for individual workers, the companies, or the community at large, when that is not the truth of the matter.

RONALD RIML's picture

Piss & Moan, Piss & Moan

You suggested violating the Constitution; I told you that wouldn't fly.

So throw your $$$ at some anti-labor organizations - there are plenty of them out there. That's your remedy.

It's not my fault that as an American you've neglected to bother learning about the role of the U.S. Supreme Court in deciding important court cases.

It has long been established supreme court decision that unions could charge non-member employees "service fees" for representational purposes and litigation as a condition of employment as long as that money was not used for political purposes.

I refer you to a case as recent as the 2009 decision: LOCKE et al. v. KARASS, STATE CONTROLLER, et al; interestingly enough, the case arose out of Maine.

Here's a good syllabus of the case: http://www.lawmemo.com/supreme/case/Locke/

There are many other SCOTUS cases out there. Rather than cry like a spoiled child, learn to research the law and find out why we have these rights of association and free speech.

 's picture

Have a nice weekend. Your

Have a nice weekend. Your pretty interesting for an educated fool, with no common sense.

RONALD RIML's picture

You having a 'little problem' with Educators there, Mike

As you bump 'Agendas' on the School Committee.....

ROTFLMFAO!!!!!

Hey, Hot Dawg - I excelled/survived in 'Common Sense' Careers that may have ate your butt alive.

RONALD RIML's picture

And you're rather a bore

And an ignorant clod with no knowledge of our Constitution nor Supreme Court decision.

Too bad they let folks like you vote.

RONALD RIML's picture

As Mr. Schaedler was????

Merely paid him back in kind, Pattie.

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

sorry

Stan is Steve.

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Fair share

Mr. Mistler is the only journalist to point out the reason unions are allowed to collect fees from non-members.

Under the Republican bill, non-members happily receive all the benefits of union members without sharing in the cost of negotiations of bringing grievances. Non-union workers loftily claim they are philosophically opposed to unions, but accept the same union negotiated paycheck as their co-workers who pay their share. This isn't about philosophy - it's about being cheap.

Thank you Stan, for pointing out the reason. I suspect your well coiffed colleagues who spend their days in makeup really don't know and the associate assistant producer internee who writes their scripts is equally clueless.

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