Workers rights, wrongs

Discussions of “right to work” laws invariably unleash rhetoric about free choice and union coercion. This rhetoric is mostly beside the point.

That point is that the Supreme Court has, as recently as June 2012, upheld the legality of the very “fair share” payments that “right to work” legislation prohibits.

U.S. labor law divides workplaces into bargaining units, groups of workers with easily specified common interests. Unit members may elect an exclusive agent, or union, to represent them in collective bargaining.

Exclusive representation (one bargaining unit, one bargaining agent, one union contract) is as much about employer convenience as union ambition. Employers need one set of rules for everybody, and an orderly process for deciding them.

Since 1947 it has been illegal to force anyone to join a union. Unions have a “duty of fair representation”: They must fairly represent nonmembers’ interests in negotiating wages and

benefits, must assist nonmembers in disciplinary matters, etc.

There are expenses involved in doing this necessary union work. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that a union may charge non-members for their fair share of costs incurred in performing its “statutory duties as exclusive bargaining agent.” Though these “fair share” fees

can’t be used for political purposes, the sole aim of “right to work” laws is to prohibit unions from charging them.

Since these fees pay only for tasks required by statute, and these statutory duties entail costs, one must conclude that “right to work” legislation is less about worker rights than a desire to prevent unions from doing necessary union work.

Lisa Feldman


Retire special treatment

In Sunday’s Kennebec Journal (Dec. 9, 2012) I saw an ad for a Legislative Technician. The ad stated the benefits package included the state’s share of the employee’s retirement is 11.54 percent. Why are we taxpayers paying $11.54 for every $100 earned to the retirement account of any employee? I know the state doesn’t pay that amount for the majority of state employees.

How many state employees are receiving this special treatment? Are our elected officials included in this windfall?

All state of Maine employees should be treated the same and have the same benefits, including but not limited to vacation time, health insurance, life insurance and retirement. This should include anyone on the state payroll whether they were elected, appointed or hired. No class of state employees should be treated special. I am willing to bet this special treatment is costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

Last year our legislators touted how they fixed the retirement system. They did this by not giving a cost of living increase for years to retirees living on fixed income. If we taxpayers are paying millions a year to a special class of employees, the Legislature has a lot of work to do and a lot of questions to answer. If the Appropriations Committee is looking for ways to save money, why not start here? It will save taxpayers a few million dollars a year.

David Crockett


LNG export terminal

DCP Midstream, a Denver-based limited liability company, is proposing to build a 22.7 million gallon, 14-story liquefied natural gas tank in Searsport, said to be for temporary storage of imported natural gas. But the U.S. is awash in natural gas, by 2017 the U.S. could be the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas in the world.

So what’s really going on here? Is this phase one of an LNG export terminal? All this requires, in addition to the megatank, is a liquefaction plant to convert domestic natural gas into a liquid to load on the tankers. As soon as the permitting for the tank is completed expect an application for a gigantic refrigerator.

Don’t worry about increased truck traffic since the natural gas will arrive in a pipeline but if you are worried about the looks of the tank, wait until you hear one of these refrigeration units running 24/7.

Walter Guinon


LePage mural examples

Gov. Paul LePage can’t change Maine history by removing the labor murals. Our history shows hard labor workers trying to improve working conditions — better wages, health insurance, safer work conditions and so on.

Maybe LePage wants murals of his time as governor. A few examples:

• Welfare recipients dumping bottled water behind stores for the refund money.

• The governor giving state jobs to his family members.

• Our trees being hauled to Canada’s saw mills to put Canadians to work. Maine mill workers are out of work.

• A masked man holding up a drug store 54 times in 50 weeks.

• How the Madawaska paper workers took a cut in pay to save the paper mill. Management got big pay raises.

• The governor blaming Maine teachers for not being “up to par” on their Maine history.

C. Boyd Tibbetts