State employees union files lawsuit to prevent layoffs at revenue office in Houlton

Posted Aug. 19, 2013, at 6:18 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The union representing state employees has filed a lawsuit to prevent the closure of a state office in Houlton, a decision announced Aug. 8, which would result in 11 layoffs.

The Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services says closing the office, which houses Maine Revenue Services staff, will save the state $900,000. The decision was made as part of a component of the biennial budget requiring the administrative branch to find $35 million in savings.

The Maine State Employees Association, which filed the lawsuit in Caribou District Court on Monday, said in a statement that Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett should have consulted the Legislature before deciding to close the bureau office. The decision “went beyond the true intent” of the savings directive, according to union president Ginette Rivard.

The union and legislators have decried the closure, saying it was never the intent of lawmakers that department heads have carte blanche decision-making authority in realizing the savings. Millett has claimed that Part F of the two-year budget, which took effect July 1, authorized him to make the decision without consulting the Legislature.

Now, a district court judge in Caribou will assess the law, and decide whether to issue an injunction against the state, which would prevent the bureau’s closure until after the Legislature weighs in.

Jennifer Smith, director of legislative affairs for DAFS, said the department would not comment on the issue while litigation is pending. Attempts to obtain comment from the attorney general’s office were not successful Monday evening.

When the layoff notices were sent on July 7, the Houlton office employed 12 people, with another two positions vacant. Smith has said that one of the workers resigned before the letters arrived, so only 11 workers will lose their jobs as a result of the layoffs, scheduled to take place on Aug. 21.

DAFS will consolidate the workload of the 12 Houlton workers into five new positions at Maine Revenue Services’ facility in Augusta, Smith has said. Those jobs will be offered to the Houlton employees, though the union has said many would likely not be able to relocate from Aroostook County.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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