Democrat Joins Republicans In Opposing Mandatory Union Fees
The debate over whether or not state workers should be forced to pay certain union fees continues among Maine lawmakers. But this time Republicans have an unexpected ally in the fight.In 2005, the legislature enacted a provision forcing state employees to pay collective bargaining fees to the state employees union, even if they chose not to be part of the union. By law, state workers can’t be forced to pay union dues, just collective bargaining fees.Representative Lawrence Lockman, an Amherst Republican, is the latest in a line of Republicans trying to right what he calls a wrong. He’s proposed a bill that would make those collective bargaining fees optional for non-union members. “It would undo what the Democratic majority did in 2005 on a straight party line vote in the middle of the night with no public hearings,” Lockman said. For Lockman it’s a simple issue of fairness. He says people should not be forced to pay for something they didn’t ask for. But his concerns go a bit deeper. “Frankly, what they did in 2005, it’s a corrupt money laundering scheme,” Lockman said. “This generated a $700,000 annual windfall to the Maine State Employees Association when they forced non-members to start paying. That money gets recycled into political campaigns so they can elect people who are friendly to the union agenda.”Lockman accuses Democratic leaders of taking their marching orders from union bosses and says a big reason Democrats continue to squash these ‘Right to Work’ bills is that the unions contribute large amounts of money to their campaigns, a question we posed to House Majority Leader Seth Berry. “You know, Republicans had the majority two years ago and they also had the governor’s office, and they didn’t pass this law,” Berry responded. “I don’t think there’s 100% support on the Republican side for right to work for less and I think there’s good reasons for that.”Republicans had a much slimmer majority in the House of Representatives back in 2010, the last time this measure was brought up, than the Democrats currently enjoy. Lockman argues that there’s plenty of support in the GOP caucus this time around, but says he’s realistic about the bill’s slim chances with the Democrats back in charge. “I think the Republican caucus is pretty solid. I’d be surprised of we lose anyone we’ve got, including myself. We’ve got four co-sponsors on the labor committee,” Lockman said. “I’m under no illusions. It’s an uphill battle with the pressure that’s going to be brought to bear on the Democratic caucus. I’m still convinced there’s enough independent minded Democrats that they’re not all going to take orders from union bosses.” One reason for Lockman’s optimism is Representative Terry Hayes, a Democrat, who is breaking with her party and co-sponsoring the bill. She said she had several long conversations with Lockman about his bill before agreeing to put her name on it. “I’ve had some questions and concerns about how the legislative process can supercede the bargaining process and I’m uncomfortable with those,” she said.Hayes, a dues paying member of two unions, says prior to 2005 the collective bargaining fees weren’t mandatory and the unions weren’t struggling. “It’s unclear to me what was different then. Because prior to that the union had an obligation to market internally in terms of value added. Why should I pay dues? What’s the benefit to me?” Hayes said. “Legislatively we adopted language that said a fee may be assessed to non-members, diminishing, if not eliminating the need for that internal marketing. I do not understand the reason for that.”But there are provisions in Lockman’s bill that Hayes is not on board with. “There is a requirement in the bill language currently for the union to recertify every year. I think that’s onerous. I think there’s process for de-certification and I think it’s adequate.”Hayes says she wants to make it perfectly that she is not against unions. In fact the opposite is true. “I have a strong principal that says the collective bargaining process works and that’s where you should do the negotiating. Don’t do an end run around it and come to the legislature. And this looked to me like an end run.”She adds that if she were working a job that offered her to be part of a union she would gladly be a dues paying member. “I believe in paying my share for that representation and I understand the benefit that comes from it. I’m critical sometimes of behavior and or positions of leadership within the unions.”She also wants to dispell the idea that she’s a Democrat who supports so called “Right to Work” legislation. “I have as much of an aversion to calling this ‘Right to Work’ as I do calling the Affordable Care Act ‘Obamacare,’” Hayes said. “That is somebody else’s nickname. So to suggest that I support ‘Right to Work’ legislation I don’t think is an accurate portrayal of my position. I signed on to this bill because I really want to be involved in the conversation and the discussion because I see it and analyze it differently. But I’m not sure I would define myself as a champion of ‘Right to Work’. I don’t even know what that phraseology means.”Regardless, Hayes’ stance goes against Democratic leadership who not only vehemently oppose Lockman’s bill, but have their own name for it. “It’s a terrible idea,” said Berry. “States that have ‘Right to Work For Less’ laws have lower wages. There’s a reason we call it right to work for less.”The bill is expected to produce a lively public hearing in the coming weeks.