Waldo County classified employees lost union

Posted Sept. 23, 2011, at 7:22 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — After months of contract negotiations between the Waldo County commissioners and the union that represents county clerks and secretaries, there is no contract — and no union.

For unspecified reasons, the Maine State Employees Association dropped the 11 clerks and secretaries from its membership rolls last month.

“There’s very little I can say on this issue,” Tom Farkas, the union spokesperson, said Friday.

That means that the former Waldo County union members continue to work for the county, but under the same contract as other, non-unionized workers, according to Commissioner William Shorey.

He said that the 11 clerks and secretaries voted 6 to 5 to form another union.

Although Debbie McAllian, the former steward for the now-defunct union, would not confirm that vote, she said that joining another union is not out of the question.

Back in January, the commissioners offered the union members a contract that would include a 3 percent raise for three years. It’s the same deal that was offered to deputies at the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, he said.

“In our mind we were being 100 percent fair by doing that,” Shorey said.

But the union workers rejected the one-time offer, a move he calls “unbelievable,” and the disputed contract moved to the mediation process. That, too, broke down in early summer, and the negotiations were headed toward the final step of arbitration when the union dissolved.

“We literally bent over backward to try to make a deal to make them happy,” Shorey said.

However, former union shop steward Debbie McAllian, who works in the Waldo County District Attorney’s office, said Friday that the contract wasn’t rejected because of the money involved.

“We have never been dissatisfied with the hourly wage that we make or the benefits here in the county,” she said. “That has never been an issue. The issue is the inequities and unfairness that are happening.”

According to McAllian, one example of that is that the commissioners had made a last-minute decision in their last offer to reclassify one department’s clerks, a move that could have pay-scale implications for other unionized employees.

“Being part of a bargaining unit, we’re there to see that everybody is treated fairly and equitably, not just one department,” she said.

She said that before organizing as a union in 2007, employees had tried several times to address the inequalities in various county positions and decided that joining the Maine State Employees Union could be a means to better do that.

“I’ve always been a strong union person,” she said.

Shorey said that the commissioners are long used to negotiating with various worker unions.

“It’s not a love-hate deal — it’s a part of life,” he said. “But times are very, very tough. It’s not a good time to hold out for the moon.”

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