Lawmakers on Maine’s Labor and Housing Committee will hold work a work session Thursday on a bill that would give collective bargaining agents an unfair advantage in contract negotiations with public employers, forcing taxpayers to fund merit increases under previous bargaining agreements while the public employer and union are negotiating a new contract.
LD 2019, “An Act To Extend to Other Public Sector Employees the Same Protections Provided to State Employees upon the expiration of Contracts,” is being sponsored by Sen. Ned Claxton. Last session, lawmakers passed LD 1546, legislation that makes state employees eligible for mandatory merit increases that are established in their collective bargaining agreements once those agreements expire. LD 2019 goes a step further, extending this coverage to municipal, judicial and public higher education employees.
LD 2019 would give municipal, judicial and public higher education employees an unfair advantage over public employers in contract negotiations, and it would codify in statute elements of a contract that should be an essential part of negotiations. What incentive would bargaining agents have to compromise with public employers during negotiations if the employees they represent are not equally impacted between contracts? The answer is none, giving collective bargaining agents an upper hand in negotiations.
The fact that public employees are paid by taxpayers is often lost during these debates. This legislation would give union representatives more control over collective bargaining, which would negatively affect taxpayers. When a similar law was in effect in Michigan, public employers were not able to renew their contracts for months or years because public employees were receiving automatic pay increases.
In addition, bargaining agents can already negotiate with public employers to ensure these provisions are in a collective bargaining agreement, and to make them permanent between agreements. The current agreement between public employers and state employees says:
“…the terms and conditions of this Agreement shall remain in full force and effect after the expiration date of this Agreement and during the period of collective bargaining negotiations for a new Agreement, until such time as a new Agreement is arrived at…”
These provisions can be negotiated for municipal, judicial and public higher education employees as well. If public employees are not content or satisfied with the contract under which they work, they should elect more effective negotiators or leave their union. Public-sector unions should always be required to negotiate on behalf of their clients rather than codifying parts of contracts into state law, especially considering taxpayer dollars are involved.
This sentiment was echoed in public testimony from the Maine Municipal Association and the Maine School Boards Association / Maine School Superintendents Association. Steven Bailey, who testified on behalf of the school boards and superintendents associations, said the bill would “diminish the authority of the School Board to adopt the local budget” and takes away the incentive for bargaining units to settle a contract.
He also said that negotiations must reflect the economic conditions at the time, raising concerns that LD 2019 could force taxpayers into costly contracts during times of economic downturn. Kate Dufour of the Maine Municipal Associated raised similar concerns, testifying that, “municipal officials believe that this negotiation tool should be retained by the impacted parties, rather than being provided to one side of the bargaining table to the disadvantage of the property taxpayers who fund these salaries.”
After losses in membership following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, it appears public unions will do anything they can to keep the dues money flowing into their coffers.