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Maine Republicans Press for 'Right-to-Work' Measures

A.J. Higgins
Senior Economic Adviser John Butera makes the LePage administration's case in favor of making Maine a "right-to-work" state.

AUGUSTA, Maine - Members of the LePage administration renewed efforts today to build support for a so-called right-to-work bill. It would eliminate the requirement that employees in unionized workplaces join the collective bargaining unit or pay representation fees to the union.

Supporters say it would attract new jobs to Maine, but critics insist that many Maine workers owe their benefits and salaries to the collective bargaining process.

Gov. Paul LePage has tried to sell the right-to-work philosophy to a less-than-receptive Maine Legislature in the past. This year, he says Maine's very future is at stake, and sent his senior staffers to a meeting of the Legislature's Labor, Commerce, Research and Development Committee, where two right-to-work measures were under review.

"I am John Butera, senior economic adviser for Gov. LePage and I am here to testify in support LD 489 and 1353 -- these are the right-to-work bills." Butera testified that automaker BMW's decision to open a plant in South Carolina more than 20 years ago was influenced, in part, by South Carolina's status as a right-to-work state.

Butera says in the last two decades, the company has added 8,800 workers and  invested $7 billion in the region to drive the per capita income of Greenville County to 15 percent above the rest of the state. In short, Butera said company's investment transformed the state.

"I want Maine to compete for these projects, I want Maine to have a seat at the table," Butera said. "Do we have a chance to win one of these projects? We'll never know. The great Wayne Gretsky said you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take. I want Maine to take a shot. The time is now for right-to-work. Indiana and Michigan passed it in 2012. Wisconsin passed it this past year. Kentucky has 11 counties that have passed right to work."

And Julie Rabinowitz, of the state Department of Labor, told the committee that federal job statistics clearly show that right-to-work states enjoy advantages over non-right-to-work states.

"Employers prefer to relocate or open new facilities in right-to-work states," Rabinowitz said. "This leads to increased job growth. Michigan became right-to-work in 2012 and since its right-to-work law took effect, Michigan has experienced the nation's sixth-largest growth in the number of people working, adding 141,000 jobs from March 2013 to December 2014, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics."

"The impact of these bills would be to dramatically undercut workers' ability to come together and bargain for a better life, and to dramatically undercut unions' ability and their core mission to improve the lives of working people," said Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO. "And it is no understatement to say that these bills undermine unions as we know them, and undermine collective bargaining as we know it."

Schlobohm says workers who do not join their unions, but instead pay a "fair share" fee for representation under a contract, receive the same benefits as workers who pay dues. He challenged claims by the bills' proponents who said right-to-work states pay higher wages and, instead, insisted that unions are a check and balance on what he referred to as "corporate greed."

And Steve Akerley, a registered nurse at the Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and a member of the Maine State Nurses Association, says that unionized nursing assures better patient care and patient safety.

"Because we have a collective bargaining agreement and a voice, nurses in our union are protected when we speak out on behalf of our patients, without retaliation - key word," Akerley said. "Would you have that taken away from us and the patients we care for?"

Lawmakers on the committee are expected to work the bills later this month, when votes are expected to divide along party lines.

In the interest of full disclosure, most MPBN reporters are represented by the Maine Education Association.