The Strange Journey of Maine's Anti-Union Bill
LD 309, the bill that would have eliminated the "fair share" provision in contracts of public-sector workers in Maine, has been held over until the next session of the legislature.
The bill had originally been a centerpiece of Governor LePage's agenda in Augusta. In February he declared to a national audience that he was "going after 'right to work'" so strongly that activists protesting the anti-union legislation of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin would leave that state and come to Maine.
It was surprising then, in May, to see LD 309 and other similar legislation seemingly abandoned. The bills had been pulled from their committees without a public hearing and seemed destined for the legislative dustbin. What's more, Republican leaders appeared to be fine with it. House Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing said leadership was avoiding the bills in order not to enflame partisan tension and threaten the passage of a majority budget, which will require Democratic support. "We don't want that in Maine," Cushing told the Sun Journal, referring to Wisconsin-like protests. "Well, some people might want that, but not enough to pass (right-to-work)."
"The reality is June 15 is coming and we don't want to stay here past June 15," said Cushing.
Then, things changed again. LD 309 and another anti-union bill were brought back to committee in an unusual move that put them on the path to votes in the chambers. Rather than a decision made to avoid controversy, GOP leaders now claimed that the original downgrading of the bills had simply been some kind of clerical mistake. "An administrative error" is what Senate President Kevin Raye called their removal.
LePage's legal counsel, Dan Billings, provided another possible explanation on the day of LD 309's public hearing, explaining that the governor hadn't been happy seeing the bills dropped and had spoken with Republican leaders about reintroducing them.
In the end, after spirited testimony and more than 800 union members and supporters rallied in the Capitol against the bill, the Labor committee voted to put LD 309 on hold, likely because they simply didn't have the votes to pass the legislation and may not have even had enough support to get it out of committee with a positive recommendation.
The bill isn't gone forever, however, and the same arguments and tensions may re-emerge if and when the legislation is reintroduced next session.