AUGUSTA, ME (NEWS CENTER) -- Once again union members packed the hallways at the Statehouse, this time to shout their opposition to a bill they say would target the state employee unions.
The proposal- known in the Legislature as L.D. 309 -- would eliminate a controversial requirement called "fair share", which makes all employees pay a fee to the unions-even if they are not union members. As a result, hundreds of union members and retirees, including many from private sector unions, packed into the statehouse for a rally before a legislative committee hearing.
The unions claim the bill would alter the balance of power in the collective bargaining process, and predict it could eventually cause problems for public safety, if union members can't negotiate the contracts they say they need. The unions also place the blame for the bill on Governor Paul LePage, even though it is sponsored by Rep. Tom Winsor (R-Norway), who says he sponsored a similar bill more than ten years ago. Rep. Winsor says "I don't see any reason why workers should be forced to pay dues to a union against their will."
But union leaders, including Matt Schloboln of the Maine AFL-CIO, say the measure would have far-reaching consequences for unions and their workers. He says there are other provisions in the bill that would undermine the collective bargaining process, by allowing the state to stop collecting union dues if a contract expires during negotiations. He argues that would "tilt the balance of power" in negotiations in favor of management. The Governor's office says state labor law would not allow that to happen.
The debate over L.D. 309 is just the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle between the unions and the Governor. The unions claim the latest bill is part of an effort by the Governor to bring pressure on the state employee unions during the current collective bargaining process. The Co-chair of the Legislature's Labor, Commerce, Regulation and Economic Development Committee, which held a public hearing on the bill Thursday afternoon, says the bill is about "righting a wrong" that wads done during the Baldacci Administration. Rep. kerri Prescott (R-Topsham) says the Fair Share provision was put in place and a law passed in 2007 with no public hearing and no chance for opponents to be heard.