April 4, 2012

Maine lawmakers balking on union dues bill

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — A legislative committee took no action on a controversial labor bill this afternoon, avoiding a recorded vote on a measure that would have removed the requirement that state employees pay a portion of union dues, even if they are not union members.

Officially, the bill is still alive. It's up to legislative leaders to decide whether to pull it out of committee with no up or down recommendation.

Maine State Employees Association Executive Director Chris Quint said Republicans don't have the votes to pass it in committee or in the House or Senate.

"Until they kill this, we're going to be here every day," he said.

Following a noontime rally of about 100 workers who protested the bill, LD 309, Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee Chairman Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston announced at a work session that it will remain on the table.

"We don't intend to take it up today," he said.

The bill seeks to remove from state law a provision that requires all state employees to pay a portion of union dues, even if they are not union members. Supporters say state workers shouldn't have to contribute money to the Maine State Employees Association just to keep their jobs.

But union leaders say it's not fair for all workers to reap the benefits of contracts they bargained without at least contributing some funding to cover the cost of collective bargaining.

"If public employee unions are required by law to represent all workers for contract negotiations, including those choosing not to be in unions, then everyone should pay their fair share for that service," said the Rev. Mike Seavey of Portland. "This is both ethically and morally sound and should remain in our state laws."

The scene at today's legislative work session was similar to a year ago when the committee met late in the session to vote on the bill, but balked. Then and now, labor leaders say Republicans don't have the votes to pass the bill.

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