Over 1,000 state workers identify barriers to delivering quality services
Heavy workloads, staff turnover, understaffing, inadequate equipment and training, job stress and overall lack of resources are among the problems, survey shows
In a comprehensive survey, over 1,000 State of Maine workers identified understaffing, staff turnover, inadequate equipment and training, stress, lack of resources and concerns about their ability to support themselves and their families as barriers to the quality public services they provide to Maine people.
The Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, conducted the survey of both union members and nonunion members employed in all State of Maine Executive Branch departments.
Eighty-three percent of respondents identified problems in recruiting and retaining staff due to pay or other departmental problems. Sixty-three percent said their worksites or offices are insufficiently staffed.
“Due to the dramatic increase in reports of abuse and neglect of elderly Mainers and Mainers with disabilities, my coworkers and I are overwhelmed,” said MSEA-SEIU Member J.B. Whipple, a human services caseworker for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in Portland. “It’s important for us to protect these vulnerable populations. However, we feel like we’re running in circles chasing our tails due to understaffing, budget cuts and steadily increasing volume. It would break our hearts to see a fellow citizen go unprotected simply because we are understaffed. I’m hoping the State of Maine can address this issue so we can see to it that our vulnerable fellow citizens are safe.”
“Nothing is more urgent than the moment you dial 911. Yet the state dispatch centers handling 911 calls have been woefully understaffed for years,” said MSEA-SEIU Member Lora Tourtelotte, an emergency communications dispatcher at the Maine Department of Public Safety’s Regional Communications Center in Augusta. “Stress in the workplace needs to be addressed better.”
The state’s recruitment and retention problem is likely to worsen unless the underlying problems are addressed, according to the survey results, as 59 percent of respondents reported they have considered leaving state service. They reported an overall lack of resources in doing in their jobs. In addition to understaffing, they mentioned heavy workloads with 58 percent unable to complete assigned tasks in the time they have. Forty-one percent reported inadequate training, while 40 percent reported using programs that don’t work properly. Nineteen percent reported mold in their worksites.
The workers who completed the survey cited concerns about their ability to retire (82 percent concerned), healthcare costs (70 percent), their ability to pay monthly bills (41 percent) and student debt (39 percent). Eighteen percent work a second job. Ten percent struggle to afford childcare or eldercare.
“Our state agencies need highly qualified technical staff, including professional engineers, to provide essential services such as keeping pollutants away from our soil, air, water and protecting our natural resources,” said MSEA-SEIU Member Kerem Güngör, an environmental engineer with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in Augusta. “It is becoming increasingly more difficult to recruit and retain these professionals.”
Understaffing problems also are impacting the Maine Department of Transportation at the height of plowing season.
“When everyone else is told to stay off the roads due to a storm, I’m out plowing day and night,” said MSEA-SEIU Member Brian Markey, a transportation worker for the Maine Department of Transportation in Bangor. “Yet here we are again in the middle of a Maine winter and we’re still short DOT plow drivers statewide. That’s not right. We’re putting our lives on the line every time we plow.”
In the survey, the state workers committed to taking action to address their concerns through contract bargaining with management, other labor-management processes, and through legislation pending in the Maine Legislature. See detailed survey results here.
The Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, represents over 13,000 Maine workers and retired workers, including workers in the Executive Branch of Maine State Government. The workers quoted in this news release are speaking as MSEA-SEIU members.