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Open letter to Gov. Mills from Maine state workers

by | Jul 10, 2021 | Labor, News, Reports

The Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989, represents over 13,000 workers, including workers in all three branches of Maine State Government. Pine and Roses here reprints MSEA’s Open Letter to Gov. Janet Mills with the union’s permission in solidarity with their demands for serious negotiations and a just contract.

MSEA workers rally for a fair contract. Photo courtesy of MSEA.

July 8, 2021

The Honorable Janet Mills, Governor, State of Maine

Dear Governor Mills:

Since March of 2021, we’ve been meeting regularly with your negotiating team in an effort to reach agreement on successor contracts for State of Maine Executive Branch workers. We’re reaching out directly to you, as Chief Executive, because so far, your negotiating team hasn’t been listening to us. Your team has refused to even acknowledge, let alone address, the well-documented and chronic state employee pay gap that has left state employees substantially underpaid in comparison to their public and private sector counterparts throughout New England, even after adjusting for regional pay differences.

State workers are now on Day 8 of working without a contract. Your negotiating team has rejected all 10 of our proposals aimed at resolving the contract negotiations swiftly and responsibly. All but one of our 10 package proposals were rejected prior to the contracts expiring on June 30, so your negotiating team chose to let our contracts expire. We think that’s shameful. On behalf of the state workers we represent, we, therefore, respectfully ask you to meet with us at your earliest convenience and hear directly from state workers about their concerns about the state employee pay gap.

MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 President Dean Staffieri rallies union members. Photo credit Pine and Roses.

In our last round of contract bargaining, both sides signed a memorandum of agreement calling for a comprehensive review of the state employee compensation and classification system. The resulting State of Maine Market Study Report dated November, 20, 2020, documents that Maine state employees, on average, are underpaid by 15 percent. This study confirmed the findings of a 2009 study, commissioned by the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services, also showing state workers are substantially underpaid.

For many state workers, the problem is worse. According to the 2020 study, accountants employed by the State are underpaid by 20 to 33 percent; chemists, 24 percent; civil engineers, 20 to 25 percent; maintenance mechanics, 31 percent; correctional officers, 16 percent; and correctional captains, 26 percent. Low wages are a central reason for the recruitment and retention problem rampant in every department of Maine State Government.  We had hoped your negotiating team would want to address this problem in a serious manner in the current negotiations, not just because doing so is necessary to ensure quality, reliable public services for every citizen of our great State of Maine, but also because it’s the right thing to do for state workers.

MSEA-SEIU members are on the front lines of providing quality services to Maine people in this pandemic. Photo courtesy of MSEA.

However, instead of addressing the state employee pay gap, your negotiating team’s most recent proposal calls for pay raises of 2 percent in July 2022 and 2 percent in June 2023. Collectively, your negotiating team’s proposals don’t even keep up with the increased cost of living in this year alone, let alone 2022 and 2023. In May of 2021, the cost of living increased 5 percent over the past year alone—the biggest increase in the cost of living since 2008, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. The increase in the cost of living for workers in 2021 thus stands a full percentage point higher than the last negotiated pay raise for state workers under our now-expired contracts, so state workers in 2021 actually fell yet another percentage point behind the cost of living. Real, systemic change is needed immediately to address the ever-widening state employee pay gap.

Other Maine workers also have shared, with you, their concerns about your negotiating team’s current refusal to acknowledge or address the state employee pay gap – and the consequences of your negotiating team’s actions on all Maine workers. “When the State fails to pay their employees a fair wage, it depresses wages for all Maine workers,” the members of the Maine AFL-CIO’s Executive Board wrote to you on June 25, 2021, a week before your negotiating team let our contracts expire. “Essential workers held our society together during the last year, often at great risk to themselves and their families. Their pay should reflect their essential work, and State Government should lead by example, but for too long State Government has not done that. Your administration did not create this problem, but it does have an opportunity to fix it.”

In addition, the members of the 130th Maine Legislature have shared their concerns about the state employee pay gap and the lack of a swift resolution to our contract negotiations. On June 30, the Legislature passed a joint resolution, “to express our hope for a swift conclusion to the negotiations with Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union and our hope that progress is made on closing the pay gap highlighted in the recent study.”

Again, we respectfully ask to meet with you at your earliest convenience so you can hear for yourself the concerns of state workers, all of whom are proud to serve the people of Maine. As state workers, we merely want to be Respected, Protected and Paid fairly for our work. Please let MSEA-SEIU President Dean Staffieri know of your availability to meet with us; he can be reached at dean.staffieri@mseaseiu.org or 207-624-0622. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

The Members of our Executive Branch Bargaining Team:

Administrative Services   

Amanda Kovats

Cindy Proulx

Operations, Maintenance & Support Services  

McKedra Clements

Glenn Jalbert

Jeff Mace

Professional-Technical Services  

Brian Campbell

Ramona Welton

JB Whipple

Supervisory Services   

Winifred Malia

Cynthia Sargent

Jon Woodard

MSEA-SEIU Leaders   

Dean Staffieri, President

Allison Perkins, Vice President

Maine Service Employees Association

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