State workers protest private contracts

Posted Sept. 04, 2009, at 8:17 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — State employees gathered Friday at the Hampden Interstate 95 rest area to protest budget decisions that have forced days off without pay and sent state jobs to private contractors.

Friday was the third of 20 state government shutdown days proposed by Gov. John Baldacci and approved by the Legislature in June as part of an effort to reduce spending in the General Fund because of sinking revenues in virtually every category. In the Highway Fund the situation was the same, so the Legislature chose to hire outside companies to maintain rest areas along Maine’s interstates.

Jonathan French, a designer for the Department of Transportation, said members of the Maine State Employees Association would protest a different aspect of the cutbacks on each of the shutdown days. On Friday they bemoaned contracts signed in June that outsource the upkeep of the state’s rest areas to private companies.

No one at the Department of Transportation was available Friday to discuss how much money the state saved by privatizing the contracts because most of state government was shut down. Mary Anne Turowski, legislative liaison for the state employees union, said a total of five state workers were laid off as a part of this initiative and several others were reassigned to other jobs within the DOT.

“Is this really the way life should be?” asked a pamphlet being handed out during Friday’s event. “You deserve to know that the public workers who used to keep this rest area spotless and safe for you recently lost their jobs here. They have been replaced by lower-paid workers with few if any benefits.”

French said approximately 15 employees participated in the event, with more targeting rest areas in Kittery.

“Today is a day we’d rather be working for the state of Maine,” said French during a telephone interview. “When we’re not working for the state of Maine it’s the citizens and the tourists who are being affected. The [Hampden] facility is not being kept up as well as it used to be.”

A company called Bangor Abatement Inc. won the contract for the Hampden, Medway and Houlton rest areas. Richard McCue, who manages the company’s contracts, said Friday that his workers are doing the best they can and that his company should not be maligned for submitting the winning bid and saving taxpayer dollars.

“We’re just there to do a job,” said McCue. “The place to have a protest, I would think, would be at the State House. It’s unfortunate to bring it to the rest area to make a point.”

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