Inside Augusta

Where have the state employee unions been when it mattered?

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Last week I spoke to you about the reforms we are proposing for the child welfare system, including better staff training and better support for our front-line caseworkers. Suddenly, a lot of organizations want to take credit for these reforms, including the state employees’ union.

This is not about sharing the credit or the blame. Reforming our child welfare system is the right thing to do. However, I take exception to the union’s sudden interest in this issue.

Based on internal reviews at DHHS, a number of changes have already been made in how child welfare cases are handled. We have also been gathering suggestions from DHHS’s employees.

However, the state employees’ union director, Alec Maybarduk, told the media last week that the union does not think DHHS workers’ concerns are being addressed. As Governor, I am troubled by the response of the state’s unions.

I have heard from the state employees’ unions about the closure of the Downeast Correctional Facility in Washington County. But I have not heard from these unions about how I should prioritize funding to train child welfare caseworkers.

The state employees’ unions have no trouble asking the Legislature to allow state workers to put their children on MaineCare instead of the state’s health insurance plan. They have blocked sensible workplace drug-testing reforms in the midst of the opioid crisis and the legalization of marijuana.

Yet when it comes to helping state employees protect the most vulnerable members of our society–young children in abusive homes–never did any representative of the union attempt to meet with me to bring these needs to my attention.

It is reasonable to expect that the union would advocate for better training, more support services and modern technology to improve their members’ work experience. But they have not brought it to my attention.

Some of the temporary changes we have made at DHHS have increased staff workloads, but it is because we are putting children first. I will always put the life of a child first.

There will be additional reforms in future bills, including adding staff, once robust training is in place and improved supports for caseworkers.

It’s a curious coincidence that the state employee unions are suddenly moved to advocate on behalf of their employees now that the elimination of fair-share dues was just made permanent by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is disgusting that the union’s need for dues money is finally motivating them to take an active interest in supporting our state workers in the child welfare system.

Maybe if the unions had partnered with management, we would have already made many of these needed reforms.

It must be an election year.

About Paul LePage

Governor Paul LePage (R) has served as the 74th Governor of Maine since 2011. Prior to his time as governor, LePage served as the general manager of Marden's and as the mayor of Waterville.

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