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Verrill Dana, LLP

Verrill Dana, LLP is one of New England's preeminent regional law firms. With offices in Portland and Augusta, Maine, Boston and Stamford, Verrill Dana provides sophisticated legal representation to businesses and individuals in the traditional areas of litigation, real estate, business law, labor and employment law, employee benefits, environmental law, intellectual property and estate planning.  The Firm also has industry-focused specialties including higher education, health care and health technology, energy, and timberlands. 

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Friday
Dec142012

Can’t Get There from Here….Or Can You: Could “Right-to-Work” Laws be Headed to New England?

As a Mainah, also known as a Mainer, or a wicked good person from the state of Maine, you’re going to have to travel a distance to find a “Right-to-Work” state.  The closest state to the South is Virginia and the closest to the East is Indiana.  But with the momentum gained from the recent passage of the right-to-work law in Michigan, don’t be surprised if this issue—which was a prominent subject of debate in the state in early 2011—comes back to the forefront of politics and the news in the coming months. 

Right-to-Work

A right-to-work law secures the right of employees to individually decide whether or not they want to join or financially support a union.  Right-to-work laws do not, however, apply to employees who work in the railway or airline industries.  Right-to-work advocates argue that the law offers employees greater freedom to determine whether they want to be members of a union and/or pay union dues, and make states more competitive in attracting jobs.  Opponents of Right to Work laws argue that on average the annual salary of workers in right-to-work states, compared to workers in states without such laws, is $1,500 less. 

Both sides appear to have valid data to support their positions.  In a 2007 study conducted by Lonnie Stevans of Hofstra University, he suggested that the number of businesses and self-employed people are greater, on average, in right-to-work states.  Conversely, however, employment, wages, and per-capita personal income, on average, is lower in right-to-work states. 

Right-to-work laws are currently in place in twenty-four (24) states, primarily in the southern portion of the country with a scattering in the West and Midwest.  One place you will not currently find right-to-work laws is in the Northeast. 

The effect of the recent passage of Michigan’s law is expected to have a significant effect on Michigan’s unions with experts estimating that unions could expect to see a twenty to thirty percent drop in revenues.  In 2011, the Department of Labor reported that approximately 703,000 people were union-affiliated employees in Michigan.  Of these union affiliated people, 671,000 people were actual members of a union.  Despite not being members, the approximately 32,000 people who were not union members, but were affiliated with a union still paid union dues—a payment that those individuals now have a choice as to whether or not they pay.  Upon the law’s passage, employees now have the right to choose not to join or financially support a union, while before they simply had the choice to not become a member of the union.

Right-to-Work Gaining New England Momentum?

Prior to Michigan, Indiana became a right-to work state earlier this year.  Before that, right-to-work legislation had not been passed since 2001 when Oklahoma became a right-to-work state.  The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President, Mark Mix, hopes that at least one more state will adopt a right to work law before the end of 2013, and lists Pennsylvania, Montana, Missouri, and Alaska as his top contenders. 

Could national right-to-work advocates set their sights on passing right-to-work legislation in the Northeast?  It’s possible, but more likely that small grass-root efforts would lead the fight.  In 2011, the Department of Labor reported that 74,000 Maine employees held union affiliations (with only 63,000 of them being union members), with a slightly higher rate in New Hampshire—77,000 (68,000 of which are union members).  Vermont finds itself with only 39,000 union affiliated workers (35,000 of which are union members); while Massachusetts reports over 445,000 employees with union affiliations (with 422,000 of them being union members). 

N.H. Governor-Elect Maggie Hassan has already stated that if right-to-work legislation were to be passed by the legislature in New Hampshire she would “veto it if it came to [her] desk.”  Governor LePage, however, has publicly indicated that he supports right-to-work legislation, but also recognizes that he would face significant opposition from the soon-to-be Democratic state legislature.  With Forbes recently naming Maine the worst state for business for the third year in a row, right-to-work advocates may see such legislation as a promising step to increasing the ability to attract and keep businesses in Maine. 

The potential revival of “right-to-work” laws in Maine should lead to an interesting debate in the future!

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