December 16, 2012

JOHN FRARY: Exposing a 'stinky infestation'

John Frary

"Everything the Republicans have been saying about the Democratic leadership's dependence on the unions is true." Union leaders are "a stinky infestation" demanding "absolute obedience from the Democratic leadership."

These sentiments didn't come from Gov. Paul LePage, and I don't know whether he believes them. I do know that if he said those words, a hostile press would have condemned them as another harsh eruption from the Blaine House Brute of their imagination.

In truth, however, I heard those words from a Democrat, in a couple of telephone interviews with Rep. Teresea Hayes, of Buckfield, assistant House Democratic whip for the last Legislature.

When Hayes sought the Democratic nomination for position of House speaker in November, union leaders went to work calling members of the Democratic caucus. These calls were not intended to support the actual winner, Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. Their sole purpose was to block Hayes' nomination.

At first glance, this seems strange. The Buckfield representative is committed to the Democratic Party. As a teacher, she was once a willing dues-payer to the Maine Education Association.

She has been attentive to the interests of the union membership. The AFL-CIO gave her a 88 percent "pro-worker" rating in 2011 and 94 percent for the entire two-year legislative session. It turned out in our conversation that she was not even aware of her AFL-CIO ratings.

She had not been following the union's orders, but simply voting according to her own beliefs, within the rules and constraints imposed by her party membership.

I know from Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, that Hayes has been willing to work out compromise solutions on the State and Local Government Committee. The fact that Harvell has worked to defeat his committee colleague in the general elections in 2010 and 2012 has not been an obstacle to this cooperation.

Hayes accepts that electoral politics are competitive. They could scarcely be called "democratic" if they were not. She has not seen this election competition as an obstacle to collaboration and compromise on legislation.

Union leaders, however, are not interested in compromise, even within the Democratic Party. They played a decisive role in this year's election and they are ready to demand what's due to them, e.g., an obedient Democratic leadership.

Hayes knew she was not always in agreement with the union leaders. "A Citizen's Guide to the 124th Maine Legislature" includes a statement that, while she supports the right of workers to unionize, she does not "support using the Legislature as an agent of collective bargaining."

She means that it is up to the unions to bargain with the responsible "management" but the use of their power to affect elections ought not to be used to frame the terms of contract negotiation by legislative enactments. This is why, in her first term, she voted against a union-inspired bill to allow in-home day-care providers to make the unions their representative.

This inspired Chris Quint, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, to give her what she describes as a severe "tongue-lashing." Quint subsequently apologized for his verbal excesses, but apparently reserved the right of retribution.

Hayes experiences the revelation of the union leaders' insistence on "absolute obedience" as a kind of liberation. If they are not interested in discussion, partial agreements and negotiation of difference, then she is free to expose their "stinky infestation" of the Democratic Party.

She will devote the remainder of her tenure in office to organizing a bipartisan caucus devoted to formulating data-driven economic development legislation without regard to demands from special interests, including unions. They are entitled to have their input, she said, but they will not be giving her orders.

Retired history professor John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and a board member of Maine Taxpayers United. Email to jfrary8070@aol.com.

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