AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Once again, the Legislature is debating changes in union laws, known as "right-to-work". Two bills are being proposed that would make it against the law to require Maine workers to pay fees to a union if they don't want to be members.
One bill applies to public sector workers, the other to private businesses.
At a legislative committee hearing today, Republican Rep Lawrence Lockman (R-Amherst) said right to work is an issue of liberty and jobs. Lockman says people should not be forced to pay a fee to unions if they don't want to join those unions. Maine state employees are required to pay a few called "Fair Share", regardless of whether they actually belong to the two state employee unions.
The controversial provision was added to the union contract several years ago under former Gov. John Baldacci. Leaders of the Maine State Employees Association (MSEA) say all state employees are covered by the union contract, and the fee covers the cost of representing those people who don't pay regular union dues.
Rep. Lockman also says right to work is a jobs issue. He and John Butera, economic advisor to Governor LePage, told the committee that states with right to work laws have been attracting more business and expansion and jobs.
Union members say they don't believe all those reports are accurate, and argue that right to work laws will drive down wages and reduce benefits for workers.
Party politics appeared to be a key part of the debate during Monday's hearing. One pro-union Democrat on the committee challenged Lockman and Butera on several issues, telling Butera at one point "if this stuff is so great in those other states why didn't you stay there?" Meanwhile, one GOP committee member raised questions about unions supporting Democrats in elections.
Similar right to work bills were defeated in the last session of the Legislature.