AUGUSTA — The Maine AFL-CIO says it is ready to fight a bill that would end the requirement for non-union public employees to pay a portion of union dues.

The so-called right-to-work bill, L.D. 309, will come up for a vote by a legislative committee today.

Sarah Bigney, spokeswoman for the Maine AFL-CIO, said that with the Maine State Employees Association in contract negotiations, “This is a bargaining table issue.”

“They are bargaining with the state right now and the Legislature shouldn’t reach in and interfere with that process,” she said.

The bill was supposed to come up for a vote last year, but was tabled when the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee said it needed more time to consider it.

This year, the bill was not scheduled for a work session for months, leading many Republicans and labor leaders to speculate that it would not be considered at all.

Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, the House chairwoman of the committee, said she expects a hot debate on the bill. She supports it, but said it’s not high on her list of pressing issues.

“Our side of the aisle feels passionately and so does the other side,” she said. “I’m willing to vote it out but I’m not looking forward to the argument.”

Today’s work session, set for 1 p.m., has prompted the AFL-CIO and others to organize a press conference at noon at the State House to show opposition to the bill.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, who has said he is troubled by the requirement that state workers who aren’t members of a union pay a portion of union dues.

The Maine State Employees Association and others argue that all state workers benefit from the contracts that unions negotiate, so all should pay their fair share.

Many Democrats agree with that sentiment, including Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, a member of the labor committee.

“I don’t like people sitting on the sidelines and getting benefits others have fought for and not sharing in the cost of it,” he said.

The state employees association and the state have been negotiating a new contract since last year. The current contract, which is still in effect, expired June 30.

At last year’s public hearing on the bill, its supporters said it’s not fair to require the estimated 25 percent of state workers who choose not to join a labor union to pay dues. Many of them disagree with the political views of the Maine State Employees Association.

A state law passed in 2007 allows the state to automatically deduct a portion of union dues from the paychecks of non-union workers, even if they object.

The bill to change that is supported by Gov. Paul LePage, who believes the state shouldn’t be a collection agency for the unions, his spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett, has said.

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

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