AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted 7-6 Wednesday to reject so-called “right to work” legislation that would prevent labor unions from collecting dues from employees who opt out of union membership.

All six Democrats plus the one independent serving on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee opposed the bill while the panel’s six Republicans supported it. The bill, L.D. 489, now goes to the full Legislature, where it is expected to be rejected in the Democratic-controlled House.

Supporters of “right to work” legislation contend the measures – already adopted in 25 states – are needed to improve the state’s business and to remain competitive with other states. Opponents, led by labor unions, have dubbed the bills “right to work for less” and argue the policies’ true intent is to weaken unions and lower wages. They also argue the bills allow workers at a unionized company to enjoy the higher wages and improved benefits negotiated by unions without paying “fair share” fees to the organization.

“We’re glad the Legislature is one step closer to killing this bill,” Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, said after the committee vote. “They are designed to drive down wages … and undermine the system of collective bargaining.”

Republican Gov. Paul LePage has been a vocal advocate for the right-to-work bills. The Legislature rejected two right-to-work bills in 2013.

After voting 7-6 in opposition to the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Lawrence Lockman of Amherst, the committee voted unanimously to kill a nearly identical measure, L.D. 1353.

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