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Union workers lobby for Maine minimum wage hike, gear up for fight over right-to-work

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AUGUSTA, Maine — About 200 union workers packed the halls of the Statehouse on Thursday to lobby lawmakers to support measures to boost the minimum wage and reject efforts to make Maine a right-to-work state this year.

The unions are pushing a "good jobs agenda" that includes ensuring that workers have predictable schedules, highlighting the pay inequality in corporations and raising the $7.50 per hour minimum wage — a change they say is long overdue.

"People who work full time should not live in poverty," said Dan Brown, a FairPoint Communications worker who recently returned to his job after a four-month strike and spoke at an event at the Maine State Museum. "We are not meeting this basic principle."

Lawmakers will consider several minimum wage bills this session, including one that would raise it to $12 per hour by 2020. But workers face an uphill battle in convincing Republican lawmakers and GOP Gov. Paul LePage, who vetoed a minimum wage hike measure in 2013.

"I don't see enough support for it," said Rep. Larry Lockman, the ranking Republican on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. "It's not going to help the people it's intended to help," he said.

Workers are gearing up to fight Lockman's right-to-work proposal, which would make it illegal to require employees to join a labor organization or pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The Republican from Amherst also wants to repeal the law that allows public employers to deduct service fees from employees' pay in lieu of union dues.

Supporters say that the measure would attract businesses to Maine, but efforts to pass the proposal have failed repeatedly in the Legislature. Lockman acknowledged that it will be a "steep hill to climb" in the House, which is controlled by Democrats, but he said that momentum seems to be growing, with Wisconsin recently becoming the 25th state to pass right-to-work.

Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, said the union plans to lobby heavily against the proposal. But he said he believes that the Legislature will continue to reject the effort, which workers see as an attempt to weaken unions that will drive down wages.

"We think that most legislators know that our focus should be on building an economy that works for everyone and supporting the working people, not undercutting their livelihood and their wages," he said.


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