State employees are speaking out in favor of a bipartisan proposal to reverse a six-year-old decision to turn the state of Maine into a collections agent of the Maine State Employees Association (MSEA).
The legislation (L.D. 786), which was introduced by Rep. Lawrence Lockman (R-Amherst), would prevent the state from withholding agency or service fees from the paychecks of workers who decline to become members of the MSEA – otherwise known as the state employees’ union.
The MSEA began collecting fees from newly hired employees at the beginning of the Baldacci administration in 2003. In 2005 the union expanded its agency fees to include all non-member employees regardless of their hire date. In 2007, after the union had encountered many individuals who were unwilling to pay dues voluntarily, they lobbied—successfully—for the state government to withhold union dues and agency fees from state workers’ paychecks.
Now, both unionized and non-unionized state employees are speaking out against the MSEA’s monopoly of state workers’ collective bargaining.
Phillip C. Getchell is an employee of the Department of Health and Human Services. He has been a member of the MSEA for 25 years and laments the fact.
“The MSEA-SEIU outfit in Maine is only interested in politics,” Getchell said.
“They’re not for the workers, they’re for the Democratic Party,” said Getchell. “I don’t like them taking our money and funneling it into the Democratic Party,” he said. “In my opinion, they’re corrupt.”
Daniel B. Locke has worked for the state for 27 years and is currently a hydrogeologist for the Department of Conservation. He said he left the MSEA early on in the Baldacci administration when it began collecting agency fees from new hires.
“I remember at the time thinking, well, I don’t want to be a member if you’re going to make it mandatory,” said Locke. “At that point, I was already disenchanted because of their political interactions,” he said. “The union was getting too political for my tastes.”
“We used to receive emails from MSEA telling us how we ought to vote,” said Locke.“I remember actually going to a meeting and having [MSEA Vice President] Scott Austin basically tell us to be supportive of Chellie Pingree. And this was in a State office building.”
“It all seemed pretty bizarre to me,” said Getchell.
“They’ve always claimed they’re representing me, perhaps they are, but they’re also very involved in politics and if your politics don’t align with theirs, then I guess you’re the odd man out,” he said.
Linda M. Anthony, a toll-collector for the Maine Turnpike Authority and ten-year MSEA member, has had numerous confrontations with the MSEA and believes Lockman’s bill will help improve the union’s transparency and accountability to members.
“Our union is almost unapproachable when it comes to the real issues,” said Anthony. “MSEA is not helping us.”
Anthony, a former advocate for disabled persons, said her grief with the union began when she witnessed the MSEA prevent three individuals with disabilities from receiving workplace accommodations and subsequently orchestrate their firing. She said her complaints to MSEA about the treatment of these individuals were not well-received.
“When I became vocal, I became a target,” said Anthony. “I was bullied at my work site.”
Anthony said she was nominated for a chapter leadership position in her MSEA chapter’s leadership elections but was somehow left off the ballot. She said union officials ignored her request for a vote tally.
Anthony said she has been bullied at MSEA chapter meetings for asking the union to follow state laws regarding labor unions.
“The bullying was constant last year because I wanted a vote tally after a local chapter election,” said Anthony.
“You get eyes rolled at you, you get hushed, you get shouted down at meetings – just trying to get local chapters to obey their own bylaws,” said Anthony. “They don’t even follow their own bylaws,” shesaid. “And there’s no recourse when the MSEA breaks the law.”
“It’s the process, the procedure, what they stand for – it’s a farce,” she said. “I don’t like my union and I don’t want to pay dues to them. Why is it the Legislature or MSEA’s choice whether I pay dues? It should be my choice.”
Anthony said that the MSEA enables a lack of transparency and accountability. “They don’t want adult, intelligent dialog,” she said.
Anthony, who is a registered Republican, believes she has been targeted because of her political views. She said many of her colleagues feel the same as her about the union but will not speak out because they are afraid the MSEA will take revenge.
“People who are unionized get dependent on union wages and benefits, so they fear speaking out,” said Anthony.
Representative Lockman hopes Democrats in Augusta, who typically side with the unions on just about everything, will have an open mind towards his bill. He said his bill would spare state employees from being coerced into paying dues to a corporation that does not have their best interests at heart.
“This is a corrupt money-laundering scheme that funnels money from hardworking Mainers into union slush funds,” said Lockman. “The MSEA has no incentive to serve its members.”
“If my bill passes they will have to compete for state workers. The unions will have to offer something of value to justify their existence,” said Lockman. “They’re scared of that.”
Opponents of Lockman’s bill have pointed toward the difficulty of dealing with tens of thousands of state employee contracts and the comparable simplicity collective bargaining provides, but Lockman said he is convinced that state workers are competent enough to manage employees.
“They’ll do it the same way the private sector does every day, where supervisors and foreman evaluate employees and potential hires and people compete for better wages and are rewarded based on performance,” he said.
By S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter