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Towns oppose right-to-work legislation
AREA — The Maine Municipal Association (MMA) has come out against legislation from Representative Tom Winsor's (R-Norway) that would prevent labor unions in Maine from compelling contributions from employees. The legislation would affect municipal unions, including those for police, and SAD 17's teachers' union.
Under current law, there can be only one union for any bargaining unit of public-sector employees, such as teachers at one school or a single town's police department. Additionally, that union is required to represent all workers in bargaining for a contract and in the case of a labor dispute. As a result, a union is allowed to adopt what is commonly known as a fair share agreement, under which all employees are required to pay a fee for the service, regardless of whether they choose to become a member.
Winsor believes that the fee amounts to a tax, and that a private organization like a union ought not to be able to compel contributions as a condition of employment.
"[A union is a] private organization and I don't like the idea of assessing a tax to people who want a job but don't want to be part of a private organization or support it," said Winsor. "It would make unions be more responsive to their members and really provide value beyond right to bargain."
In addition, the bill would free unions from the requirement to represent all members of a bargaining unit. A teachers' union, for example, would not be required to negotiate for all of the teachers at a particular school.
"With this legislation, we remove that responsibility for the union to represent those people who are not a member of the union," said Winsor. "It really has nothing to do with an attempt to attack a union, as opponents of the legislation would argue."
The MMA's legislative policy committee, made up of town leaders from municipalities across the state, decided in March to oppose the legislation on the grounds that it would allow for more than one union per bargaining unit. According to the Geoff Herman of the MMA, the committee believed requiring a town or school district to negotiate with several different unions, or with each worker individually, would be costly and time consuming. Herman says their opposition is for logistical, rather than philosophical reasons.
"Under current law, only one union can ultimately be certified to represent the employees in a bargaining unit," said MMA representative Geoff Herman. "This bill does away with that to allow multiple unions per bargaining unit and that is something that would be very problematic. You'd be forever negotiating contracts, you'd be just completely wrapped up in the administration of unions."
"I don't know whether that was Tom Winsor's intention or just some residual, inadvertent consequence of the law, but, in any event, it would be an extremely problematic one for the towns."
When contacted again, Winsor said that he was aware of the concern and would be revisiting the issue, but that he did not believe it would apply to municipal unions.
"While in theory this bill as written would allow more than one union to represent members in the same bargaining unit, most municipal units in Maine are so small that no union would be willing to represent only one or two workers," said Winsor.
He did, however, also say that the House Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development would consider redrafting the bill to prevent more than one union from representing the same bargaining unit.
"The bill needs to be redrafted by the committee to ensure that only one union would be certified per bargaining unit, and that will be suggested to the committee."
After redrafting, said Winsor, workers who do not choose to join the union would be expected to negotiate individually with their employer and settle any labor disputes themselves.
"I think that is between the employer and the non-union member," said Winsor when asked how non-union members would be represented.