Members advocating for COVID protections


Congratulations to Maine’s next secretary of state, former state senator Shenna Bellows, and Maine’s next state auditor, Matt Dunlap.  We know we can count on them to protect workers at the Maine Department of Secretary of State and in the Office of the State Auditor during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 New agreement with Mills administration  strengthens paid leave

MSEA-SEIU members continue their advocacy around myriad COVID-19 related issues throughout our bargaining units, including positive tests in the workplace, leave time, out-of-state travel and workplace safety.

Since Oct. 1, there have been dozens of positive COVID cases among MSEA-represented employees in addition to, among others, prisoners at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham and the York County Jail in Alfred, and students at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and in the Maine Community College System. Recurring daily records of COVID cases in Maine — 427 were reported Dec. 7 alone — have heightened the urgent need for worker protections in this ongoing pandemic.

Over the last few months, many workers in the Executive Branch of Maine State Government (our Administrative Services; Operations, Maintenance & Support Services; Professional-Technical Services; and Supervisory Services bargaining units) have expressed concerns about the ability to take sufficient paid leave during the pandemic. We brought those concerns to Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa. On Dec. 3, we reached an agreement with the State to increase flexibility of paid leave during the pandemic. The agreement has two components: temporarily removing the cap on vacation accruals and front-loading 2021 sick leave.

Temporary Extension of Vacation Accruals
All Executive Branch employees will be able to carry over all unused vacation time from 2020 into 2021, even if vacation time exceeds the typical maximum accrual. This provision may expire at the end of 2021 or with 30 days’ notice from the State. Should the agreement be terminated before the end of 2021, workers will have 90 days to get their accrued time back under the typical caps.

All Executive Branch employees will receive 2021 sick leave “up front” to help ensure they can stay home if they feel sick:
All Executive Branch employees will receive the sick leave they would normally accrue over the course of a year “up front” (rather than earning sick leave on a bi-weekly basis) in case they need to use it. In the event they leave State Service prior to the time they would have normally accrued this time, the value of the time they have used may be deducted from their last paycheck.

Read the agreement on Vacation Accruals here.

Additionally, the Governor has announced the State will be extending portions of the Emergency Sick and Family Medical leave that were scheduled to expire at the end of the 2020. This new policy, COVID CARE, allows eligible state employees to take up to 80 hours of administrative leave if they need to quarantine or isolate, to care for a loved one, or for childcare needs in the event of a school closure. More info.

These agreements help alleviate some the sacrifices of State Employees who’ve been unable to take leave due to the intense operational needs of their departments during pandemic, and they will help keep workplaces safe by ensuring that those who may be running low on sick time do not feel compelled to come to work sick. We thank Commissioner Figueroa and Governor Mills for working with MSEA-SEIU on these matters.

Also in Maine State Government, members are serving on the joint labor-management Building Safety Committee. It includes MSEA-SEIU Members Wade Colpitts, Jonathan French, Katrina Perkins and Kyle Thomas as labor representatives and MSEA-SEIU President Dean Staffieri as Co-Chair. Issues they continue to address include the timeline for returning State employees from work-from-home status, shifting additional workers to work-from-home status, and structural improvements in offices, including higher cubicles, plexiglass partitions and improved air filtering systems.

We continue to work with the State Bureau of Human Resources on a new Standard Operating Procedures for responding to positive cases in the worksite.

In early April, we filed a complaint with the Maine Bureau of Labor Standards about the State’s failure to give notice of likely COVID cases in the worksite. While bureau found no violation based on the law, at our urging, in August it adopted a new “Compliance Directive” obligating public employers to give notice of both “confirmed” and “probable” cases in the worksite. We will pursue legislation to strengthen the Department of Labor’s regulatory oversight on this issue and future public health issues.

Members at Green Valley Association, a residential center in Patten, were demanding an extension of the hazard-pay agreement that expired Nov. 30.

In addition to the hazard-pay agreements secured early on, since June we added hazard-pay agreements for certain classifications in the; Maine Departments of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and Marine Resources; Maine DHHS Office of Aging and Disability Services, Office of Behavioral Health, Division of Licensing and Certification, and the Office of Child and Family Services; and the Maine Correctional Center.

Many of the plans and goals we had set for 2020 were upended in mid-March when the full scale of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent. Members and staff quickly formed a rapid response system to handle a number of COVID-19 related issues by:
— Mobilizing to distribute hand sanitizer and masks while employers failed to provide PPE;
Conducting outreach campaigns and addressing worker issues, questions and concerns;
Working with all of our employers to ensure the safety of our members, by transitioning workers to work-from-home arrangements or pushing for new protocols and practices that minimize risk for exposure at worksites;
— Organizing coworkers to demand to be heard during the decision-making process, either winning a seat at the table or establishing labor-management committees on worker safety;
— Securing agreements regarding PPE, hazard pay, virtual meetings, and adjustments to the grievance processes and timelines;
— Working with the Maine news media to raise awareness about worker safety and to get our members’ stories told;
— Analyzing the various state and federal laws related to workplace safety and employee leave, scouring the text of CDC guidance and the Governor’s Executive Orders, and pushing employers to comply with these standards; — Filing worksite safety complaints with the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standards and convincing the bureau to adopt Compliance Directives particular to COVID-19.

Members anticipate advocating on COVID-related issues well into the future. Moreover, we’re grappling with the economic fallout. The coming years likely will continue to require us to organize and advocate, particularly around raising revenue necessary to maintain services and keeping pressure on the federal government to provide COVID-relief funding to state and local governments.

Updated: December 10, 2020 — 12:39 PM