Updated Jan. 16: Legislative roundup for the 2020 legislative session —
Protect state workers from exposure to carcinogens;
improve the disability-retirement system at Maine PERS;
also legislation on adjuncts, CDS, privatization schemes, right to strike, and retirement security; join us at the State House for our Visibility Days, and Labor Lobby Day, plus the Race & Labor Program!
At our request, Representative Harnett is sponsoring LD 1969, An Act to Protect State Workers from Exposure to Carcinogens. The Committee on State and Local Government will hold a hearing on LD 1969 at 10 a.m. Jan. 22 in Cross Office Building Room 214. LD 1969 would identify and catalog problem buildings and related testing. It would create new standards relating to contaminant levels and improve testing requirements. It would improve the ability of workers to raise and resolve safety concerns. Story.
We support LD 1978, An Act to Improve the Disability Retirement Program of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System, sponsored by Senator David Miramant. LD 1978 would require MainePERS to use independent hearing officers for disability retirement appeals. It would abolish medical board reviews in favor of independent medical examinations to help in decision making. The Committee on Labor and Housing will hold a hearing on LD 1978 at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 in Cross Office Building Room 202. Story.
We support LD 1878, Resolve to Establish the Commission to Study the Use of Adjunct Professors in Maine’s Public University and College System, sponsored by Representative Jan Dodge. LD 1878 would provide for a study and recommendations on the use of adjuncts in the University of Maine System and Maine Community College System. It would address issues including creation of a career path for adjuncts, an expansion of their role in student retention and success, expansion of access to healthcare for adjuncts, and funding needs.
We’re continuing to monitor ongoing legislation and funding legislation relating to Child Development services.
We support LD 1458, An Act to Protect Maine Taxpayers in the Privatization of Public Services, sponsored by Senator Shenna Bellows. LD 1458, which was carried over from the last session, establishes a process before a state agency can enter into a privatization contract.
We support LD 900, An Act to Expand the Rights of Public Employees under the Maine Labor Laws, sponsored by Representative Mike Sylvester. LD 900, which was carried over from the last session, would give more power to Maine’s public workers by providing them with the right to strike. Workers in critical public safety roles, such as law enforcement and firefighters, are exempted from the bill.
MSEA-SEIU Member Visibility Days at the State House: Join fellow MSEA-SEIU members at the State House at our MSEA-SEIU Member Visibility Days in support of our legislative initiatives. Meet up at 9:30 a.m. in the hallway just past Security on the following dates: January 30, February 13, February 27, March 26, April 9, and April 23. Register here.
Attend Labor Lobby Day March 12: Join fellow union members statewide at the State House on Thursday, March 12, for the 2020 Maine AFL-CIO Labor Lobby Day, in support of pro-worker legislation. Register here.
Race & Labor on March 22: Join fellow unionists at the Maine Irish Heritage Center in Portland from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 22, for a program of learning, sharing and discussion for Maine union leaders and members about racial justice in the labor movement. Sign up here.
Support LD 1659 for workers at Riverview, Dorothea Dix: LD 1659, sponsored by Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, would put workers at Riverview Psychiatric Center and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in the 1998 Special Plan for retirement purposes. Email the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee at SLG@legislature.maine.gov and ask them to support LD 1659.
Support LD 1355 for Computer Crimes Unit, Crime Lab workers: We support LD 1355, sponsored by Senator Bill Diamond, to expand the 1988 special retirement plan to include employees in the State Police Crime Lab and the State Police Computer Crimes Unit. While the Maine House and the Maine Senate approved this legislation last year, it was held up by the Appropriations Committee, where it remains pending. The workers in the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit and the Maine State Police Crime Lab do traumatic work. It takes a toll on them as workers, as private citizens, as spouses or partners, as parents. It’s past time we stopped expecting these workers to do this gruesome work until their normal retirement age. It’s past time to include these workers in the 1998 Special Retirement Plan. Email the Appropriations Committee at AFA@legislature.maine.gov and ask them to support LD 1355.
Support LD 162 for pension fairness: While Maine doesn’t tax Social Security benefits, it does tax the pension benefits earned by Maine’s retired state workers, educators and others participating in the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. This penalizes Mainers who worked some, or all, of their lives in public service. This inequity is compounded by the federal Social Security Offsets, which penalize Maine’s public employees by reducing or eliminating Social Security benefits they earned. LD 162, An Act to Eliminate the State Income Tax on Maine Public Employee Retirement System Pensions, sponsored by Senator Shenna Bellows, would address this problem by eliminating the state income tax on MainePERS pensions. It was carried over from the last legislative session. Speaking in support of LD 162, State Rep. and MSEA-SEIU Retiree Member Donna Doore of Augusta explained why the legislation is necessary: “State and (Participating Local District) employees are penalized by having any amount over $10,000 of their MainePERS retirement taxed. If someone collects Social Security, they are not taxed on it. This leaves state employees (and PLD employees) with a disadvantage and it is not fair.” Ask the Legislature’s Taxation Committee to support LD 162. Email the committee at: TAX@legislature.maine.gov. LD 162 would provide some relief to retired state workers and retired educators most impacted by the permanent and significant cuts made in 2011 to their pensions. Cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, were frozen for three years. When the COLAs resumed, they were calculated on a base of $20,000 per year, adjusted for inflation, with a maximum CPI increase of 3% per year. For those retired state workers and retired educators who were career public servants with pensions higher than $20,000 per year, they permanently lost earnings on that amount above the $20,000 base. The total permanent impact to retirees was $1.7 billion. Treat MainePERS pensions the same as Social Security for income-tax purposes. Ask the Taxation Committee to support LD 162.
2019 session of the 129th Maine Legislature —
Real progress on our issues; keep up pressure
You and your coworkers spoke up – and Maine’s elected leaders listened. While there is a lot left to do, together, we made real progress in the 2019 legislative session.
From testifying at the State House to talking with state legislators and the Governor, we demanded solutions to the pervasive recruitment and retention issues in state government. The enacted two-year state budget and the laws we passed address many of the concerns members raised over the past year:
Understaffing: The budget funds 62 new Child Protective Worker positions, 48 new positions for a new inpatient unit at Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center, 18 new positions in the Department of Education, 12 new positions in the Department of the Attorney General, eight new mental health crisis worker positions for people with developmental disabilities and four new Computer Crimes Task Force positions.
Better working conditions: State park rangers and managers will receive the training they need to protect Maine people and the parks (LD 1246 signed into law). Caseload standards will be implemented for child protective caseworkers in the Maine Office of Child and Family Services within DHHS (LD 821 signed into law), addressing the impossible caseloads they’ve been experiencing.
Contracts funded: The budget funds the contractual agreements ratified by our members in the Executive and Judicial branches of Maine State Government.
Increased funding for CDS, Governor Baxter School for the Deaf, MCCS, Maine Maritime Academy: The budget increases funding by $3 million for Child Development Services, where our members ratified a new contract with substantial raises. The budget increases, by 3.35 percent each fiscal year, funding for the work our members do for the Maine Community College System and Maine Maritime Academy. It also increases funding by $1.7 million for the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf/MECDHH.
Statewide investments: The budget invests in local schools, adding $111 million in state aid for education. It makes progress on property tax relief by increasing the Homestead Exemption to $25,000. It increases revenue sharing. It strengthens the Property Tax Fairness Credit, benefiting 13,000 low-income Mainers.
To be sure, we’re disappointed Gov. Mills vetoed LD 1177, which would have strengthened collective bargaining rights by making arbitration binding on key economic issues for public workers. The rights of public workers need to be strengthened to defend our families and the services we provide to the people of Maine. We will keep fighting to strengthen collective bargaining rights.
On the whole, we can all take real pride in the progress our members made this legislative session. Congratulations go to all of you who spoke up in support of public services, public workers and retirement security. Let’s keep up the pressure to win for public services, public workers and retirees — and to hold all elected officials accountable.
MSEA-SEIU members and staff joined Governor Mills in the signing ceremony for LD 821, which sets caseload standards for Child Protective Caseworkers in the Maine DHHS Office of Child and Family Services.
Important legislation carried over to the January 2020 legislative session—
Protect CDS, prevent privatization, strengthen workers’ rights
Several legislative proposals impacting public services and public workers have been carried over to the January 2020 legislative session:
Protect Child Development Services (CDS): MSEA-SEIU members at CDS pushed back and opposed LD 1715, which would dissolve CDS without any plan in place. CDS provides crucial services newborns through age 5 and their families so they can make the best of their public education.
Prevent privatization: We support LD 1458, An Act to Protect Maine Taxpayers in the Privatization of Public Services, sponsored by State Senator Shenna Bellows. LD 1458 establishes a process before a state agency can enter into a privatization contract.
Strengthen workers’ rights: We support LD 900, An Act To Expand the Rights of Public Employees under the Maine Labor Laws, sponsored by State Rep. Mike Sylvester. LD 900 would give more power to Maine’s public workers by providing them with the right to strike. Workers in critical public safety roles, such as law enforcement and firefighters, are exempted from the bill. To be sure, nobody wants to strike. It’s an option of last resort when workers have exhausted all other means to defend themselves, their families, and their communities.
Strengthen retirement security: We support LD 1355, sponsored by State Senator Bill Diamond, to expand the 1988 special retirement plan to civilian employees in the State Police Crime Lab and the State Police Computer Crimes Unit. While the Maine House and the Maine Senate approved this legislation, it was held up by the Appropriations Committee for funding and carried over to the January 2020 legislative session.
Stay tuned! The 2019 MSEA-SEIU Legislative Scorecard will be published in your next Maine Stater. It will list how your state senator and state representative voted on key votes we are tracking.