AUGUSTA, Maine — A bid to let labor union members vote every other year to dissolve their unions failed 20-13 Monday in the Republican-controlled Maine Senate.

LD 1553 sought to set up the biannual votes in even-numbered years. Any labor union that didn’t receive a majority of votes in its favor would be decertified and no longer represent the bargaining unit. The bill also would have allowed employees of a decertified union to choose a new union at any time.

Republican Sen. Andre Cushing of Newport, who sponsored the bill, said too many workers have been forced to pay union dues against their wishes.

“In a country where we dumped tea into the harbor because of taxation we felt was unfair and representation we felt we didn’t think we had, do we think members of the union should have the right to hold their leadership accountable on a regular basis?” said Cushing during brief Senate debate Monday morning.

That drew a sharp rebuke from Democratic Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester, who said the bill went too far.

“This bill is the equivalent of requiring a vote every two years on whether we should have a state Legislature at all or whether we should have a Congress or not,” said Bellows. “This bill is unnecessary, disruptive, disrespects workers’ rights and is a solution in search of a problem.”

This proposal is one of at least three Republican-sponsored bills that arguably sought to erode representation of workers’ rights by labor unions. LDs 65 and 66, both sponsored by Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, seek to allow workers to opt out of paying union dues and to bar public employers from deducting union fees, respectively. Neither of those bills have been voted out of committee.

Variations of Cushing’s proposal and other so-called “right to work” bills have failed in previous Maine legislatures.

During committee testimony on Cushing’s bill, Matt Schlobohm of the Maine AFL-CIO said unions are good for workers.

“We represent 40,000 working men and women in the state of Maine,” he said. “We work to improve the lives and working conditions of our members and all working people.”

Making Maine a “right to work” state — where workers can opt out of being represented by unions and paying dues — has long been a goal of Republicans and especially Gov. Paul LePage, who sees unions as a detriment to the economy and who has said failure to abolish them is one of the chief regrets of his time as governor. He has proposed numerous bills related to eroding labor unions but has been denied by mostly Democrats in the Legislature.

LD 1553 now heads to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is unlikely to fare well, and faces more procedural votes in both chambers. All Democrats in the Senate on Monday, along with five Republicans, voted against Cushing’s measure, which fell in a 20-13 vote.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.