“Right to Work” Debate Gets Testy In Augusta
Representative Lawrence Lockman of Amherst introduced two bills that would make paying certain union fees and belonging to unions optional. These “right to work” bills usually cause contention and bickering but Monday’s public hearing brought that to a whole new level. Lockman says these bills would demand accountability from unions and attract business to Maine. “It would introduce some competition into the marketplace,” Lockman said. “It would basically force the unions to offer something of value if they expected to be paid.”A catalyst behind Lockman introducing the bills was a bill passed by lawmakers in 2007 making certain union fees mandatory for state workers. According to supporters of Lockman’s bills, that caused a $700,000 cash windfall that Lockman calls “a money laundering scheme” that allows unions to influence the outcome of Maine’s elections. “I think it’s clear to anybody who follows politics in an election year that full-time union staff is working on politics and they’re looking to elect candidates who favor the union agenda,” Lockman said.Representative James Campbell, an Independent from Newfield and a member of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Development Committee, showed up with both barrels loaded, leaving little doubt where he stands on the right to work issue. When Lockman finished presenting his bill, Campbell came after him. “We probably wouldn’t be here today and need these unions if itwasn’t for people who didn’t want to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 -$9.00. You voted against that and spoke against that too didn’t you?” Campbell asked. “Did I hear a clarifying question yet from Representative Campbell?” Lockman responded.Cambell was far from finished. “I’m 79 years old and when I was in school in the summers I’d work for 75 cents an hour, minimum wage, and you people would love to bring that back,” Cambell thundered at Lockman who later brushed off the comments. “That’s just Representative Campbell being Representative Campbell,” Lockman said.Governor LePage’s Senior Economic Advisor, John Butera spoke in favor of Lockman’s proposals, saying other states that have right to work laws are beating Maine out for new business. In his weekly radio address, Governor LePage cited high energy costs and the lack of right to work legislation as the main reasons businesses opt not to come to Maine. “Folks, the reality is I sat in corporate board rooms and was told by CEO’s and presidents they would not consider expanding into a state that was not a right to work,” Butera told the committee, sparking another attack from Campbell. “If all that stuff was so great in those states you just mentioned, why didn’t you stay there?” thundered Campbell, prompting the committee chair to chastise him. “Representative, you’re out of order,” Senator John Patrick said.Union representatives, like John Martell, President of the Firefighters Union took exception with the notion that businesses will only come to Maine if right to work legislation is passed. “Well I would ask what companies they are and who’s gone away,” Martell said. “Fairchild Semiconductors came to Maine years ago, it didn’t stop them. BIW is here, it didn’t stop them. All the paper mills are here which ones are left.”Lockman realizes the bills face an uphill climb in a legislature controlled by the Democrats who traditionally don’t support these types of bills. “Members of the Maine Legislature who vote against this legislation are going to have to answer to the Maine voters for voting against legislation that all the evidence tells us would bring good jobs to Maine. They will have to answer to the voters,” Lockman said.His bills face a work session in the coming weeks.