Inside Augusta

Governor Mills found her veto pen and used it against government unions


After the First Regular Session of the 129th Maine Legislature came to a close, Governor Janet Mills vetoed two bills that would have expanded the scope and power of organized labor in the state. These are two of just seven bills the governor has vetoed thus far, which pales in comparison to her predecessor. Former Governor Paul LePage issued far more vetoes than the previous 19 governors combined over his eight year tenure.

In her veto message for LD 1177, Governor Mills picked apart the bill, which would have required binding arbitration for the salaries, pensions and insurance of public-sector employees. Governor Mills made the case for protecting the taxpayer from unelected private arbitrators, mentioning that giving them the power to bargain would be “contrary to the principle of representative democracy” and would “forfeit a fundamental function and responsibility of our school boards, city councils, town select boards, boards of trustees and governmental branch leaders.”

This is true — an arbitrator is not accountable to state and local officials, nor to the taxpayers who are footing the bill. An arbitrator’s decision, even if based on weak evidence or fallacious reasoning, can rarely be reviewed by elected officials or a court.

Binding arbitration benefits public-sector unions more than public employers or taxpayers. Most decisions by an arbitrator are a “win-win” for public-sector unions since they will never award a settlement less than management’s final offer. So the union is guaranteed to get at least some of its demands and will never come out worse than when it went in. The only check on the union’s demands is the judgment of the arbitrator, who usually has little incentive to hold down costs for taxpayers or consider the government’s fiscal health when deciding on the terms of the new contract.

Another union bill, LD 240, was also vetoed by Governor Mills. This bill would have made teacher planning and preparation subject to collective bargaining between unions and employers. The bill also states that planning and preparation would not be considered matters of educational policy, which is currently exempt from collective bargaining. Governor Mills vetoed this bill because it conflicts with existing precedent from both the Maine Labor Relations Board and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that deems teacher planning and preparation as educational policy. 

This is a good veto because LD 240 likely would have had a negative impact on students. Collective bargaining agents primarily advocate for teachers and policies that may “benefit” them, despite the possible negative consequences on students and their families. 

Once the Maine Education Association (MEA) discovered the Governor vetoed those bills, they sent a message to their members condemning the decision.

LD 240 would have expanded the scope of negotiations for the MEA, giving them more leverage and area to work with in negotiations. Put differently, it would allow collective bargaining agents to use teacher preparation and planning as another bargaining chip when negotiating with employers, even if these decisions negatively impacted students.

If enacted, these bills would have increased the amount of power wielded by the MEA and other government unions that negotiate on behalf of public-sector employees. With her veto pen in hand, Governor Mills made a good decision by rejecting these bills.

About Adam Crepeau

Adam Crepeau is a former policy analyst at Maine Policy Institute.

Recommended for you