State workers rally for respect, fair contracts
Workers demand solution to pervasive recruitment and retention issues in Maine State Government
Nearly four months into negotiations for their next contracts and a week before their current contracts expire, state workers rallied outside the State House June 22. They demanded respect for public service and meaningful pay raises to address what they said are pervasive recruitment and retention issues throughout Maine State Government.
“When a DOT camp is short transportation workers, it means everyone else has to work twice as hard,” said Brian Markey of Kenduskeag, a transportation worker for the Maine Department of Transportation for the past three years and a member of the bargaining team for the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union. “This leaves all of us vulnerable to health and safety problems. You can get rushed and that can lead to problems real fast.”
Between his full-time state job and his part-time job at Lowe’s, Markey said he works seven days a week to pay his mortgage, health insurance and day-to-day bills. “Sometimes when I’m plowing, I might be plowing for 30 or 40 hours straight continuously, and then I leave and go straight to Lowe’s and work another eight hours,” he said. “If I’m lucky I can get four or five hours sleep before I have to go back to DOT again. It’s one of those things where the pay is not enough to even really survive and just pay your bare bills.”
Dean Staffieri, the union’s vice president, said state workers have real economic concerns. “It used to be having a state job provided a decent level of security. Sure, the pay wasn’t great, but the job came with health insurance and a pension,” said Staffieri, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Maine Department of Labor and a state employee for the past 28 years. “But over the past few decades, health insurance and pensions have been cut back substantially. Management and past Legislatures have repeatedly balanced state budgets on our backs. They even cut our pensions just to pay for tax breaks mostly benefiting Maine’s wealthiest citizens and corporations.”
All of those cuts, Staffieri said, mean one out of five state workers has to work a second job to make ends meet. “One job should be enough,” he told the rallying workers.
Staffieri added that 82 percent of state workers are concerned about their ability to retire, 70 percent are concerned about healthcare costs, and 39 percent are paying for their or a family member’s student debt. His statistics came from a survey the union conducted late last year of state workers; over 1,000 workers responded to the survey.
“The problems the State is experiencing with recruitment and retention do have solutions. And your bargaining team will keep fighting hard for those solutions Monday (June 24) when they’re back at the table with management,” said MSEA-SEIU President Ramona Welton, an auditor for the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles who is in her 35th year of state service. “In the past week, we have seen movement at the bargaining table, movement in the right direction. But management isn’t there yet. So we will keep bargaining. We will keep fighting for you, your families, and the services you provide for the people of Maine.”
In addition to June 24, contract negotiations also are scheduled for June 25, 27 and 28. The current contracts for State of Maine Executive Branch workers expire June 30.