March 22, 2011

Over 300 union members came to the State House on March 22, 2011 to oppose “right-to-work” legislation and Gov. LePage’s proposed budget. A Bangor firefighter, a nurse, a paper mill worker, a shipbuilder and a corrections officer all voiced their concerns at a press conference.

“Where did this legislation come from?” asked Bangor Firefighter Ron Green. “It’s plain. It’s simply a way to bust unions and take our rights away.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau statistics:

• In the 22 states with “Right to Work” laws workers earn an average of $5,538 a year less than workers in states without these laws.

• The rate of workplace deaths is 52.9 percent higher in “right-to-work” states.

• In 2009, the average poverty rate in “right-to-work” states was 19.1 percent, compared to 16.1 percent in Maine.

• Without worker representation, healthcare, pensions and job creation suffer. And infant mortality rates increase.

• The quality of education suffers in “right-to-work” states. On average they spend $2,671 less per pupil on elementary and secondary education than states without these laws.

The Firefighter, Ron Green, deserves to have his question answered. In order to do so some facts need to be outlined:

The current law in Maine does not require workers to join a union, but the unions do have a right to collect a portion of their pay to cover the expense of collective bargaining. That is because under federal law workers are entitled to receive the full benefits of a collective bargaining agreement — even if they chose not to belong to the union.

Rep. Tom Winsor is the sponsor of two right-to-work bills. One deals with public sector employees, the other with private sector workers. The main thrust of the legislation is to allow those who choose not to join a union at their workplace to opt out of paying anything towards their share in the costs of union representation.

So, if Winsor’s legislation passes, and as a result workers don’t pay anything to the union they would still get full benefits from the union, because of the federal law. Without contributing to the union they would be leaches in the system. If huge numbers decided not to pay, the union would loose large amounts from its membership revenue stream. That would weaken the union when they need to promote workers rights.

By limiting how much a union has to spend on media and support of workers issues the voice of any union could be drowned out. Workers rights would suffer.

Nationally, the “right–to-work” bills in Maine are near clones of others in more than eight states. Many consider it to be a focused concentrated effort to change the rules pertaining to labor unions across America.

“It’s important to note that the legislation introduced in Maine is part of a national agenda,” said Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO. “It’s a very ideological agenda being pushed by the National Right to Work Committee out of Virginia, and its intent is to further shift the balance of power against American workers by weakening unions.”

“Right-to-work” is a deceptive name for this legislation. Read the opposite.

UPDATE: This bill was tabled until next year’s session.