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Maine Democrats Back Bill To Give New Public Employees' Contact Information To Labor Unions

Rebecca Conley
Maine Public
Lawmakers at the State House in Augusta in December.

Maine could join a handful of other states that grant public-sector unions greater access to new employees in order to recruit members.

A proposal before the Maine Legislature would require government agencies that already employ union workers to provide public-sector union officials with names, addresses, phone numbers and other contact information of new employees.

The bill, sent to the Labor Committee Tuesday for a future public hearing, is among a slew of pro-labor proposals under consideration by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. It is also a response to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that restricted public-sector unions from collecting “fair share” dues from employees who don’t join a union, even though the union must still represent them in collective bargaining and disputes with their employer.

The decision, Janus vs. AFSCME, was considered a devastating blow to public-sector unions. Labor advocates worried that eliminating fair share payments would drain union finances and, potentially, their political clout.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January the membership for public- and private-sector unions edged down by less than 1 percent in 2018 from the previous year, a trend not mirrored in Maine, where union membership rose slightly to 85,000 workers.

Proposals similar to the one in Maine are being introduced in several other states as Democrats seek to counter the effects of the Janus decision and respond to efforts by conservative groups to sap unions of their political power through right-to-work laws.

Similar pro-union bills have been enacted in states with Democratic-controlled legislatures, including New York, New Jersey, California and Washington.

The Maine proposal is co-sponsored by Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash and Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport.

Should it become law, municipal employees, state employees, judicial employees and workers for the state university and community college systems could be more easily approached by union representatives, who would also have access to new hires’ contact information, such as email and phone numbers.

It could also counteract ongoing efforts by conservatives and aligned advocacy groups to remind public sector workers that they don’t have to join a union. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy currently operates a website that provides an electronic form so that workers can opt out of paying dues.

In a written statement, Gideon said the bill gives unions the chance to speak with workers directly.

“This is an issue of transparency and fairness for workers, and we want to make sure that public sector employees have the opportunity to make their own informed decisions about joining a union,” she said.

Jackson, also in a written statement, acknowledged that the proposal was prompted by the Janus decision, which he described as a “devastating blow to workers all across the state.”

“In response, Maine lawmakers have made a commitment to fight harder to protect the rights of workers,” he said. “This bill would ensure that all workers are aware of their right to band together and call for fair wages, safe work environments and good benefits.”

The Republican minority offices in the House and Senate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bill now heads to the labor committee for a public hearing that will occur later in April.

Originally posted 4:47 p.m. April 2, 2019.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.