State Workers’ Union Wants Big Pay Bump, Looser Telework Rules, and Expanded Parental Leave


The Maine State Employees Association announced Friday that it had filed a prohibited practices labor complaint against Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ administration.

The complaint alleges that Mills’ negotiator, Bureau of Human Resources Director Breena Bissell, is not negotiating in good faith.

You can read the full complaint here.

Democratic officials have so far remained quiet about the complaint.

Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), who is known for his work with and on behalf of unions, has not responded to inquiries from the Maine Wire.

But House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) published an op-ed today addressing the Mills administration’s treatment of the union bargaining team.

Maine Democrats and the MSEA are typically sympatico, so what’s going on here?

Some have suggested that the complaint, which will have little real consequence for the Mills administration, is a clever ploy by Democrats to make it appear as if they’re taking a hardline in negotiating. Others have speculated that union officials haven’t been properly deferential to certain politicians, so elected officials are reminding them who’s boss.

In either event, the union doesn’t really have a strong hand to play. From Feb. 2021 to Dec. 2022, the MSEA went from 5,418 members in the executive branch to 5,058. Fewer employees equals less dues money, which in turn means less political muscle. Politically, MSEA doesn’t have any alternatives as they’ve alienated every Republican from York to Fort Kent, as Faulkingham points out.

In an email to MSEA members Monday, union head Dean Staffieri also included the list of bargaining demands the union is prepared to make — if it ever does get a meeting with Bissell. But given the way the Mills administration has treated negotiators thus far, these asks might be too tall an order.

PAY: The MSEA is asking for a $5.00 increase in the base rate of compensation, plus a 22 percent increase that takes effect this year. On top of that, they want another 15 percent in 2024. That pay increase is historic in size. For context: the last pay raise MSEA secured in 2021 was 2 percent the first year and 4 percent the second year, plus a minimum hourly rate of $15.00. MSEA is also proposing the the State pay the full cost of retirement contributions for workers covered by the agreement.

REIMBURSEMENTS: Right now, state workers get a $0.45 mileage allowance. They’re looking to knock that up to $.655. MSEA also wants the meal allowance for extended days increased to $10.00 for breakfast and $25.00 for dinner. On the health and wellness front, MSEA wants members to have a $100/month reimbursement to cover classes that improve physical and mental health.

TELEWORK: If the COVID-19 government lockdowns gave you a taste for that work-from-home life, you’re not the only one. The MSEA is proposing clearer guidelines for how members can work from home. Under the proposed agreement, any state employee would be able to request work-from-home privileges.

Supervisors would have to reply to their written request within ten days offering an approval or a “compelling reason” why the employee cannot work from home. Those compelling reasons cannot include any disciplinary action that has previously been taken against the employee (unless the action was related to working from home), the employee being on promotional or initial probation, that the employees supervisor is already working remotely, or that the location is not the employees home.

In short, it sounds like workers are sick of being told they can’t work from home because the boss already is, and they want to privilege of working from their camp or favorite vacation spot.

PARENTAL LEAVE: State workers currently get 28 days of paid parental leave, and they must take the leave no less than eight weeks following the arrival of the child. The MSEA is asking for 12 weeks of paid parental leave taken within a year of a child’s arrival.

HEALTH & SAFETY: The proposed agreement would create new protections for workers who believe their health and safety would be harmed by a work-related task or living situation. The MSEA also wants a $75 benefit to purchase “protective” eyewear.

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