June 23, 2018
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State employees union drops complaint that LePage illegally contracted work

By Matthew Stone, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s state employees union has dropped a complaint it filed against Gov. Paul LePage’s administration alleging the administration illegally hired private contractors to perform state employees’ work after the union’s contract expired in 2011.

The Maine State Employees Association dropped the complaint, which was pending before the Maine Labor Relations Board, on Monday.

The MSEA had argued the LePage administration violated a state law that keeps an expired contract’s provision in effect until a new labor agreement is reached. That so-called status quo provision, the union argued, meant that MSEA should have had the chance to bargain for work that ultimately was awarded to nonunion members after the union’s contract expired June 30, 2011.

The union and the state have not agreed on terms for a new contract and are currently in mediation, said Timothy Belcher, the MSEA’s general counsel.

The Maine Labor Relations Board in August rejected the union’s allegation that the state illegally hired private contractors, saying the MSEA failed to prove the LePage administration violated labor laws. The decision also noted that the union failed to frame its case clearly.

But while the board rejected the union’s argument, it invited the union to provide more details to clarify its case.

Belcher said Tuesday the union withdrew the complaint to concentrate on other matters it has pending before the state Labor Relations Board.

“We just have so many battles and so many irons in the fire right now that we need to pick our battles,” he said.

The union dropped the labor complaint the same day it requested a meeting with the LePage administration to bargain over what the union called an “inevitable” state government shutdown. A shutdown would occur if lawmakers and the governor fail to reach an accord over a new state budget.

Cynthia Montgomery, chief counsel for the state’s office of employee relations, called the timing of the union’s withdrawal of the complaint “curious.”

“I don’t know if those two things have anything to do with one another, but at the same time, I think the overly dramatic use of the word ‘inevitable’ might have a side benefit, which is to distract from the fact that this complaint that was filed with such fanfare a year-and-a-half ago is now having to be withdrawn because there’s no basis for it,” she said.

The other complaints the union has filed with the labor board allege the LePage administration hasn’t bargained with the union in good faith over the terms of a new contract and hasn’t allowed the union to negotiate over employee pay in LePage’s proposal for a new two-year budget.

Hearings were recently held regarding the union’s allegations that the administration bargained in bad faith, and the state has filed a move to dismiss the latter complaint and is awaiting a ruling from the Maine Labor Relations Board.

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