For years, an unhealthy alliance between Democratic politicians and labor unions has taken its toll on our state’s budget and economy. When Republicans held the majority in the Legislature for the first time in decades, we enacted some important reforms, but there is still much to do.
Unfortunately, Democrats, now back in the majority, proved in this year’s legislative session that they’re more determined than ever to maintain the status quo that has weakened the integrity of our government and the strength of our economy for future generations.
Former Assistant House Minority Leader Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, gave us a rare insight when she referred to unions as a “stinky infestation” of the Maine Democratic Party that require “absolute obedience” from the liberal politicians they get elected.
In Maine, government employee unions spent more than $430,000 to get Democrats elected to the Legislature in 2012. Private unions spent almost another $200,000.
The ramifications of this unhealthy alliance between Democrats and their union friends can be seen in public policy time and again.
Accounting for inflation, state government has grown almost 30 percent in the past 20 years, and every time a spending reduction is proposed, state employee labor unions are the loudest opponents.
Democrats staunchly opposed a reform that cut the state pension’s $4.1 billion long-term deficit almost in half, lifting a major burden from our children’s shoulders.
The public unions’ “first in, last out” policy cripples the efficiency and customer service of government offices, even resulting in the layoff of a Maine Teacher of the Year.
Almost every education reform proposal goes down in flames because of union influence. The public unions even rejected Gov. LePage’s offer to match funds for advanced teacher training, opting to keep the money for political campaigns instead of our children’s education.
Democrats and unions fought efforts to reduce fraud in our workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance systems — efforts that would preserve more benefits for those using them honestly and reduce out-of-pocket costs for hardworking Mainers.
They even opposed a measure that would simply make it easier for young people to get training as electricians. Unions didn’t want the extra competition, so they told Democrats to deny this opportunity for Maine’s young people.
I see it every day in the Legislature’s labor and commerce committee, where union bosses fill the room and give my Democratic colleagues their marching orders.
However, I wouldn’t voice a complaint about a problem without offering a solution, and fortunately there is a clear one.
Right-to-work legislation, also known as “workplace freedom,” would provide employees with the choice of whether to pay union dues and in turn would relieve unions from having to represent those who don’t pay. This is common sense; the choice should be up to the individual worker. When the unions don’t have a government-granted monopoly in the workplace, we see fewer destructive work rules like “first in, last out” that weaken state government’s effectiveness and scare off private employers.
Even Michigan enacted right-to-work because unions had bled its economy dry and it was losing jobs to its newly right-to-work neighbor, Indiana. Detroit was recently forced into bankruptcy by an unsustainable system of public unions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over the past 10 years, private-sector job growth increased 6.4 percent in states with workplace freedom and only 0.4 percent in forced unionism states. Maine’s job growth was minus 1.4 percent during the same period.
Wages in right-to-work states are 4 percent higher than those of their unionized counterparts when adjusted for cost of living, and their wage growth is three times greater over the past decade.
A national survey of business site location consultants found that half of companies considering relocation or expansion automatically rule out states without workplace freedom. Our own governor experienced this recently when he met with a major company that wanted to know only two things: the cost of energy and whether Maine is a right-to-work state.
Workplace freedom is that important when it comes to economic growth.
It’s time that government began working for us. Maine needs a major economic shake-up if we are to emerge from decades of economic stagnation induced by extreme liberal policies. The unhealthy alliance between big government and big labor unions must come to an end if we want better government, lower taxes, more private-sector jobs and less debt for our children.
Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, is serving her second term in the Maine House of Representatives. She serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research & Economic Development Committee. Her commentary originally appeared in the Portland Press-Herald and is published here with permission.