AUGUSTA, Maine — Two controversial proposals that would make Maine a “right-to-work” state are back on the table in Augusta.

Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, a freshman legislator on the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee, has introduced two bills that would make Maine a right-to-work state. The first would allow employees to work at unionized private businesses without being forced to financially support a union as a condition of employment. The second bill would offer paycheck protection to state employees who don’t want to join a union, but are currently required to pay fees to the Maine State Employees Association.

The bills are similar to two pieces of legislation that were introduced during the last legislative session by Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway. Those bills — LD 309 and LD 788 — died in committee in June 2011.

Maine is one of 26 states currently not having right-to-work laws, according to the Legal Defense Foundation, an organization that advocates for such measures.

“I introduced these bills to help Maine compete for new jobs,” Lockman said in a statement. “Half of the country is now right-to-work, and unless Maine joins this wave of economic growth, we will be left behind to pick up the scraps.”

A news release from the Maine House Republicans cites a report from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that showed employment grew 71 percent in right-to-work states between 1980 to 2011, while non-right-to-work states grew 32 percent in the same time period.

“Across the country, companies that offer good, high-paying, highly-skilled jobs that are looking to relocate prefer to move to right-to-work states,” Lockman said in a statement. “It gives them the flexibility they need in an increasingly fast-moving and competitive global economy.”

Anecdotally, it’s true that some business location consultants and companies in certain industry sectors, such as manufacturing, do consider whether a state has right-to-work laws before even considering coming there, according to Peter DelGreco, CEO of Maine & Co., a private nonprofit that assists businesses looking to expand or operate in Maine.

Many factors certainly influence a company’s decision to set up in a particular state, DelGreco said, but “there are consultants we’ve worked with in the past, or who we’ve spoken with in the past, who have told us that there are states that they cross off if they’re not right-to-work for particular companies.”

Don Berry, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, which represents nearly 30,000 Maine workers, called the bills “dead on arrival.”

“It’s unfortunate that Rep. Larry Lockman is pursuing a divisive agenda that would lower Mainers’ wages, benefits and working conditions. Last session, the Legislature debated this attack on workers’ collective bargaining rights, and leaders on both sides of the aisle recognized it as a bad idea that would harm Maine’s working families,” Berry said in a statement. “We urge the Legislature to focus on rebuilding Maine’s middle class, creating opportunities for good-paying jobs, and protecting workers’ rights.”

Lockman acknowledged his bills face an uphill battle in a Legislature with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, but said the conversation is still worth having.

“I want to give Democrats in Maine an opportunity to be on the right side of this issue, and get on the right side of history,” he said. “I look forward to making that case to my colleagues across the aisle.”

Given the response it received last session, when the Republicans held majorities in both the House and Senate, Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said these bills likely don’t have what it takes to pass.

The state chamber didn’t take a firm stance one way or another on the right-to-work bills during the last session because other priorities took precedence, Connors said.

“Without getting too far ahead of myself, I would anticipate we’d be in a very similar position to where we were two years ago when it was under review and never put forward,” Connors said. “Without canvassing members and seeking their input, I think it would suffer the same fate.”

Gov. Paul LePage supported the right-to-work legislation introduced last session. At a meeting in February 2011 of the National Governors Association, LePage referenced protests in Wisconsin relating to efforts at the time to end collective bargaining for state employees there. In an interview with Politico, LePage said of the protesters, “once they start reading our budget, they’re going to leave Wisconsin and come to Maine because we’re going after right-to-work.”

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, did not comment specifically on Lockman’s bills because the governor’s office has not seen the language, but did say, “We are always interested in addressing ways to make Maine more competitive and increase job opportunities for all Mainers.”

She pointed out that in Forbes’ list of best states for business, nine of the top 10 states are right-to-work states. Maine ranked 50th in that list.

Whit Richardson

Whit Richardson is Business Editor at the Bangor Daily News. He blogs about Maine business, entrepreneurs and the economy.