AUGUSTA — Republican lawmakers Wednesday reintroduced a so-called right-to-work bill, a week after saying that the legislation wouldn’t be a priority this session.
An amended version of the bill was expected to be unveiled this afternoon and sent back to committee for a public hearing.
Democrats nearly killed the bill this morning when Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, made a motion from the floor in the House of Representatives to indefinitely postpone it. The motion failed after a 74-74 roll call vote.
The bill, which has the backing of Gov. Paul LePage, prohibits public employee unions from charging nonunion workers a fee – not full dues – for representing them in contract and grievance negotiations.
Republican supporters say they don’t feel nonunion workers should have to pay anything, since they’re not members of the union. Democrats counter that public employees who decide not to join the union are still represented by the union and benefit from that, and said the legislation is a politically motivated assault designed to bleed organized labor of financial resources.
Republicans last week pulled the bill, LD 309, from committee without a public hearing. Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, the majority whip in the House, said last week that although right-to-work was worthy of an “honest and fair discussion,” leadership did not want to hinder passage of the budget with another bitter partisan battle.
Cushing said leadership did not want raucous protests in the State House as witnessed in Capitol buildings in Wisconsin and Ohio.
“We don’t want that here in Maine,” Cushing said. “Well, some people might want that, but not enough to pass (right-to-work).”
Cushing also indicated that Republicans were wary of further alienating Democrats whose support will be needed to pass a budget with a two-thirds majority to avoid a government shutdown.
Since then, rumors have been rampant that the legislation was coming back. That fueled speculation that the legislative branch was under pressure to take up the bill because LePage earlier this year declared in the national press that the Maine Legislature “was going after right-to-work.”
Last week LePage was asked if right-to-work was still a priority.
“Quite frankly, what’s a priority to me right now is the budget,” LePage told reporters.
On Wednesday union supporters were spotted in the State House wearing purple shirts, perhaps foreshadowing additional protests.