June 22, 2018
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State union files bad faith complaint against LePage

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
Gov. Paul LePage delivers a speech Wednesday in Portland.
By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s largest state workers union has filed a formal complaint against Gov. Paul LePage and his administration for allegedly negotiating a new contract in bad faith and violating the state’s collective bargaining laws in the process.

The 21-page complaint, filed Monday with the Maine Labor Relations Board, is the latest round in a drawn-out fight between the LePage administration and the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union.

Tim Belcher, lead counsel for the association, said the negotiating stance from the administration has been take it or leave it.

“They have made essentially no concessions and they haven’t explained why they want certain things,” he said. “We expected the governor to be tough, but we think he’s crossed the line. The law allows people to negotiate but it doesn’t allow for one party to go in with the intent of not reaching an agreement and for remaining bent on destroying the process.”

Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, called the complaint a 21-page press release filled with inaccuracies.

“We believe we’ve been negotiating in good faith. They have rejected three different offers,” she said. “This is an attempt by the union to play the media and it worked.”

Bennett referred inquiries about the specifics alleged in the complaint to Louis DiLorenzo, the out-of-state attorney representing the LePage administration in the negotiations. DiLorenzo did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

LePage has not kept hidden his feelings about the employees association and unions in general. He has pledged to back right-to-work legislation that union officials have said would cripple them.

“He’s come in with a very strong anti-union philosophy,” Belcher said of the governor, adding the last time DiLorenzo’s law firm did work in Maine, it helped decertify the union that represented employees of the Maine Veterans’ Home. “They know how to destroy a union.”

The complaint asks the Maine Labor Relations Board to intervene and force the other side to negotiate in good faith.

Already the contract negotiations likely are headed for mediation, a process that could take several months before an independent arbitrator decides the terms.

The Maine State Employees Association represents more than 15,000 state workers across a variety of state departments, ranging from public health workers to plow truck drivers.

The workers’ complaint reportedly comes after the LePage administration rejected the union’s latest contract proposal.

Last week, the MSEA sent a letter to LePage warning him to play by the rules when it came to subcontracting government work.

“All Maine workers have a right to do their jobs free of coercion and discrimination, and that includes workers who have exercised their right to form a union,” said Scott Austin, a union member and an environmental specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “We’re simply asking the labor board to order the LePage administration to stop its illegal conduct.”

Bennett said the union is grasping if it’s worried about hypothetical subcontracting and she said the LePage administration has no interest in negotiating through the media.

But the governor’s office has not been silent during negotiations.

In June, the governor’s chief of staff, John McGough, wrote an op-ed alleging that it was the union adopting an inflexible bargaining position.

“For years many Maine taxpayers have not had salary increases, have had to accept cuts in benefits and experienced significant losses in their retirement accounts,” he wrote. “It is time to remember that the people of Maine work hard at their jobs to pay their taxes and they expect state management to cut unnecessary spending at every possible turn.”

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the number of the Maine State Employees Association within the Service Employees International Union was incorrectly reported.

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