Union complaint: Turnpike authority negotiating in bad faith

By Matthew Stone, BDN Staff
Posted June 20, 2012, at 7:35 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The union that represents Maine Turnpike Authority employees is charging the authority’s management with bargaining in bad faith, undermining the collective bargaining process and threatening the union for not ceding to the authority’s demands.

The accusations against the turnpike authority are part of a complaint the Maine State Employees Association filed Monday with the Maine Labor Relations Board.

The complaint comes after about a year of negotiations between the turnpike authority and the union that haven’t resulted in a contract. Contracts for both bargaining units that represent Maine Turnpike Authority workers expired at the end of 2011, said Peter Mills, the authority’s executive director.

The state employee union’s complaint says the turnpike authority broke Maine labor laws by refusing to budge from an initial list of demands for concessions and use them as the starting point for negotiations.

The union initially offered to agree to a contract in which workers would go without raises for three years, said Brian Oelberg of the Maine State Employees Association, the chief negotiator for the Maine Turnpike employees unit.

The turnpike authority then responded with demands that employees go without raises for three years, pay more for their health insurance and accept cuts to overtime pay and other benefits, according to Oelberg.

“That’s not fair to the employees,” he said. “They didn’t make the decisions that led the turnpike into this. It was management.”

Mills declined to discuss details of the contract negotiations, but said changes to labor contracts and work rules figure into turnpike authority efforts to restructure and generate enough revenue to avoid defaulting on debt.

“We’ve asked them to discuss a wide variety of issues,” Mills said. “Some of them are concessions. Some are just work rules.”

The Maine Turnpike Authority now has 20 days to respond to the union complaint, said Marc Ayotte, executive director of the Maine Labor Relations Board. That response likely will lead to a fact-finding hearing before the labor relations board.

If the board finds the turnpike authority has violated the law, it can issue a cease-and-desist order telling the authority to stop any illegal behavior.

News of the labor relations board complaint comes during a week in which Maine Turnpike Authority board members are holding three public hearings on a proposed toll increase for the 109-mile highway and are expected to vote on the elimination of 20 positions.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/20/business/union-complaint-turnpike-authority-negotiating-in-bad-faith/ printed on September 16, 2014