AUGUSTA, Maine – Following effective worker lobbying, meetings, phone calls and 10,000 post cards, so-called right-to-work legislation went down the drain in Maine, by a 90-52 margin in the state House. Other anti-worker bills also hit the legislative garbage can.
But the fight isn’t over yet: The Maine AFL-CIO is warning that right-wing GOP Gov. Paul LePage, who tried to sneak RTW through in the closing hours of this year’s legislative session, might bring a version covering public workers back in January. So it’s setting up a summer school for activists in the state capital, Augusta, for training for further fights.
The Maine measure is one of several RTW bills that went down to defeat in states recently, despite flush-with-cash campaigns from corporate interests and right-wing Republicans. Other defeats occurred in Kentucky and New Mexico. Missouri’s Democratic governor vetoed the GOP-passed RTW bill and has the votes to sustain his veto.
RTW has been a right wing cause ever since a 1947 federal law legalized it, letting non-unionists in union shops be “free riders” receiving union services without having to pay at all for them. What RTW backers really want to do is to de-fund workers and unions, depriving them of money to represent workers, bargain contracts or campaign against the corporate agenda.
While RTW overall lost 90-52, a separate RTW bill, covering just public workers, was sent back to committee. LePage may try to resurrect it next year, the state fed said. A “paycheck protection” bill – unions and workers call it “paycheck deception” – to ban automatic dues deductions from workers’ checks in unionized government workplaces, lost 90-51. A ban on paying government union shop stewards for grievance handling lost 86-56.
“We did it!” proclaimed Sarah Bigney, the state AFL-CIO’s leadership coordinator.
“Because of your tireless efforts, we’ve won the first battle in our fight to defeat the so-called ‘right-to-work’ bills,” even though the public sector RTW bill went back to committee, she added. And that panel postponed a vote on that measure “because they did not have the support to pass this anti-worker legislation-and that’s because of all of you.
Besides the 10,000-plus postcards against RTW, Maine workers met more than 50 elected officials in home districts, and more than 300 unionists descended on Augusta in March for labor lobby day, double the previous record.
“And with just a few days’ notice, you brought over 1,000 union members and workers to the State House to say that rolling back collective bargaining rights is unacceptable,” Bigney added. “The level of public and private sector solidarity was incredible, showing we really are stronger when we all stand side-by-side together. You made it happen.”
Lawmakers should deal with jobs, Maine AFL-CIO Executive Director Matt Schlobohm told the lobby day crowd. The last election, he added, “was not about turning back the clocks and rolling back basic protections, rights and standards.” Legislators should “focus on real issues and not be taken up with distractions that undermine workers’ organizations, their retirement and their health security.”
Photo: 2015 Labor Lobby Day, Augusta, Maine. Maine AFL-CIO.