LEWISTON, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday invited the audience at his town hall meeting to check his facts if they wanted to when he made the claim that workers in “right-to-work” states make more money than those where labor unions hold more sway.
“I will just tell you the honest truth, and you can do your own research,” LePage said. “I don’t need to do it for you. Right-to-work states make more money than union states. It’s that simple. Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida: Go look at their per-capita income, their economies and then look at our economy — Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.”
But according to 2015 wage data available at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, LePage got it wrong.
Only three of the states LePage rattled off — Texas, Florida and Louisiana — have higher per-capita incomes than Maine; the other five do not.
Also, New Hampshire and Vermont have higher per-capita incomes than any of the eight states named by LePage.
Right-to-work states prohibit unions from collecting dues from workers who do not want to be union members, even when the union still represents them in its collective-bargaining efforts.
Under Maine law, labor unions can still collect proportional dues from workers who don’t want to be union members. And while dues from those workers can only be used for the union’s administrative functions related to labor contracts and not used for political activity, those critical of unions say it’s unfair to force an employee to pay dues to an organization with which they may not agree.
Opponents say right-to-work laws are an attempt to undermine the bargaining power of unions and drive down wages.
Recent efforts to make Maine the first New England state to adopt a right-to-work law have failed repeatedly, even when Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature in 2011. And in 2015, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 21-14 against the latest effort.
LePage made his inaccurate comments as he discussed his efforts to recruit the French aircraft manufacturer Airbus to Maine. LePage said he had conversations with an Airbus executive as he tried to convince the company to bring jobs to the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.
The executive, LePage said, had only two questions. One was on the cost of energy in Maine and the other was whether the state is a right-to-work state.
Airbus eventually decided to locate a manufacturing plant in Mobile, Alabama, where it employs about 260 nonunion workers.
And while Alabama is a right-to-work state, it also is a state where unions thrive, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 11 percent of Alabama’s workforce belongs to unions; in Maine about 13 percent of all workers belong to unions.
In closing Wednesday, LePage offered his town hall audience one more piece of advice as he urged them to elect candidates who would be “truthful” to their ideals.
“We are all entitled to our own opinions, and I urge people to use [that] and to speak out, but I urge you to remember you are not entitled to make up your facts,” LePage said.
Messages to LePage’s communications team on Thursday and Friday seeking clarity on where the governor obtained his facts on right-to-work states and per-capita income levels were not returned.