The union leadership of the Maine State Employees Association has learned a valuable lesson over the past several months: Gov. Paul LePage, as chief executive officer of the state of Maine, is one tough negotiator when it comes to representing the interests of Maine taxpayers at the bargaining table. And unfortunately, MSEA wants to go back to the old way of doing business.
The state of Maine recently received a copy of a more than 20-page complaint that MSEA has filed with the Maine Labor Relations Board. The complaint alleges that through a series of actions, the administration engaged in bad faith bargaining to avoid reaching a successor agreement to the one that has expired.
MSEA mistakenly equates an unwillingness to agree to their demands as bad faith bargaining. We consider it protecting Maine taxpayers.
The legal requirement to bargain in good faith means just that – the state must bargain fairly. It does not require that the parties agree. The state is confident that its conduct during negotiations has at all times met the requirements of good faith bargaining. While the state’s legal answer filed with the labor board will be public and more specific, we want the residents of Maine to understand the following basic facts:
The administration has this year successfully negotiated labor contracts with the three other unions that represent state employees. Moreover, the terms of these agreements are consistent with what was offered to and rejected by MSEA leadership.
The state’s bargaining team has attended each and every agreed upon negotiation session with MSEA. Both sides have accommodated each other’s schedules. The parties made proposals and counterproposals and reached some tentative agreements, all actions which demonstrate good faith bargaining.
The state is seeking changes to the status quo because the status quo is broken and we do not believe the current MSEA contract represents the best interests of our state and our employees. This is where the union’s objection really lies. These negotiations are not the “business as usual” discussions that have marked contract negotiations in previous administrations.
The state has a right to seek changes on behalf of the taxpayers for legitimate reasons such as controlling costs, permitting more efficient operations, rewarding workers based on performance not seniority, and relieving the state and the taxpayers from paying for what should be internal union matters.
Contrary to the union’s assertion, the state never has proposed the elimination of union service fees. The state’s position is that the collection of union dues should be a private matter between the union and its members. The state now takes service fees out of all workers’ paychecks whether authorized by a worker or not. Taking money from an employee’s paycheck without their permission is just plain wrong. While MSEA dislikes the state’s proposal on automatic deduction of union fees, it is not evidence of bad faith bargaining.
If the union — a private organization — is providing a good service to its members, then those members happily will write a check to their organization.
It is evident that MSEA is not used to tough negotiations on behalf of the taxpayers. Its complaint before the labor board confuses hard bargaining with bad faith bargaining. The concepts are very different and hard bargaining is not illegal.
It is unfortunate that MSEA has chosen to file this complaint rather than focus on the lawful dispute resolution process established to resolve deadlocks between the parties. This complaint detracts from the important issues on the table and results in continuing unnecessary costs to Maine taxpayers.
MSEA is obviously interested in continuing the status quo without having to bargain — which it claims is one of the main reasons it exists.
The state, in the interests of all Maine taxpayers, will not be distracted from the need to make changes to the MSEA contract, nor will it be bullied into maintaining an already expensive status quo. The state will continue to seek appropriate contract changes in its negotiations with MSEA because the taxpayers expect us to vigorously represent their interests at the bargaining table. With taxpayer dollars on the line, we cannot afford to simply roll over.
John McGough is Gov. Paul LePage’s chief of staff.