Maine Right to Work Laws

One of the hot button topics in labor law today is the so-called “right to work” laws. These right to work laws vary from state to state, but generally the purpose is to prohibit requiring union membership and paying union dues as conditions for a job.

Essentially, an applicant or current worker can’t be denied employment solely because of his or her non-union (or union) status and failure to pay dues. About half of the states have these “right to work” laws.  

Right-to-Work Laws in Maine

Currently, Maine is not a right-to-work state. However, in Maine, you can’t be required to join a union, but non-union workers at a union workplace will still have dues charged to them for the services the union provides.

In 2013, two bills on these types of laws were voted on by Maine legislators. The first, LD 831, would have allowed an employee at a unionized business to choose NOT to support the union financially. The second, LD 786, would prohibit a deduction of union dues from paychecks of public-sector employees, when choosing to not be in the union. Neither bill passed. Most Democrats voted against the bills and most Republicans voted for them.

Unfortunately, much of the research in this area is somewhat biased or paid for by special interest groups. Even the unbiased research is divided about the economic and other effects of right-to-work laws. However, there’s general agreement that the enactment of these laws come with pros and cons. Any state’s economy has multiple other factors to consider as well.

Support for Right-to-Work Laws

Right to work law supporters claim that workers should have the right to decide for themselves whether to join or financially support unions. Typically, supporters are more conservative, Republican, and pro-business. Supporters claim that research shows “right to work” states have had more economic growth than states without these laws.

Opposition to Right-to-Work Laws

Unions oppose right-to-work laws for the obvious reasons that the main purpose of these laws is to weaken unions as many workers will hope to skip the union dues, but still eat the union assistance pie. In addition, many worker-rights organizations oppose these laws. Some critics, including the Bureau of Labor Education at the University of Maine, even find the economic growth claims questionable.

Research suggests that states with unions have higher rates of pay and more benefits than states without unions. For example, fewer businesses offer health care and other benefits in right-to-work states. Thus, even if there is economic gain in right-to-work states, the gains are generally only seen by the employers while the employees received less pay and benefits. Therefore, lower income worker groups tend to oppose anti-union laws.

Changing the Law in Maine

Maine doesn’t have any statutes, constitutional amendments, or other laws about limiting employers and unions from working together to require workers, even non-union workers, from paying for union services. If you want to change the law in Maine, whether on this issue or another, you should organize with other like-minded individuals.

The best place to start is to speak with your local representatives. You can have a grassroots lobby day or consider working with a professional lobbyist. Finally, you may want to hire a Maine non-profit or business organizations lawyer to create a legal entity to support the cause.

Note: State laws change all the time. It’s best to verify these state employment laws by either conducting your own legal research or asking a knowledgeable Maine employment attorney.

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