President Welton’s column —

Now, more than ever, let’s stick together to win in 2018

Sept. 14, 2017

By Ramona Welton
President, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989

For many of us, it’s become harder and harder to pay the bills, find affordable healthcare, pay for childcare or college, save for retirement, and stay out of debt.

You and I understand these struggles. So it’s disappointing the Governor keeps pushing an ideologically driven agenda at the expense of working families and retirees. Just this year alone, the Governor’s attacks have taken many forms, including but not limited to proposals to freeze the retiree cost of living adjustment and cut public services and jobs. The ill-conceived agenda of the Governor and his allies led to the shutdown of Maine State Government over the Fourth of July weekend, disrupting the quality public services Maine people count on.

This year, members of our Executive Branch bargaining team put in scores of hours and days at the negotiating table advocating for state workers in another tough contract fight with this administration. Our bargaining team fought hard for meaningful wage increases. We secured those wage increases at the price of eliminating the service fee in our Executive Branch contracts effective Jan. 1, 2018. I was there for the negotiations. I was there for the ratification vote ballot count Aug. 30 when members in all four units approved the agreements (see the Representational Services Roundup on Pages 8-9 of your Sept. 14 Maine Stater).

The pending loss of the service fee has led us to restructure how our union does its work. This restructuring is under way. As our Annual Meeting story on Page 1 shows, we eliminated two staff positions: the vacant Director of Field Mobilization position, and a soon-to-be-vacant Account Clerk position held by Carmen Gardner, who has announced her retirement at year’s end. We made the difficult decision to give 45-day layoff notices to four members of our union’s staff. We thank those impacted staff members for their service to you and our union.

As we restructure, our Board of Directors on Sept. 7 named past MSEA-SEIU president Ginette Rivard as interim Executive Director, in wake of Rod Hiltz’s resignation for personal reasons (see story, Page 8 of the Sept. 14 Maine Stater).

Let’s always remember that when we speak with a united voice, we win. This year, scores of you stepped up.

Throughout the state budget process and shutdown, many of you made your voices heard by testifying at the State House. You had ongoing, respectful conversations with your legislators. You marched on the State House. You spoke up for the important work we all do for Maine people. I need you to keep sticking together in support of each other and issues impacting working families and retirees. As members of MSEA-SEIU Local 1989, please keep engaging your legislators, your coworkers, your families, and your neighbors in support of the quality public services we provide.

By sticking together, we defended the retiree cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the Legislature. As a result, the 1.6 percent retiree COLA increase approved by the retirement system Board of Trustees on Aug. 10 puts over $8.3 million a year into the pockets of eligible retired state workers and retired educators.

We protected bargaining unit jobs, including educators at Long Creek Youth Development Center, security screeners at the State House, and public health nurses, with one year of funding for Down East Correctional Facility and our members there. Legislators also overrode the veto of LD 1108, directing the state to fill vacant public health nursing positions.

See our two pullout sections in the Sept. 14 edition of the Stater – one is our 2017 Legislative Scorecard, the other is our 2017 State Government Shutdown special section – for additional gains we secured by sticking together.

There are many more opportunities to win for working families and retirees — and we can win by sticking together and speaking with a united voice:

Together, let’s vote YES on statewide Questions 2, 3 and 4 to make Maine an even better place to live, work and raise a family. Voting YES on all three will: help make healthcare affordable (Question 2); create jobs, improve our highways, bridges and other infrastructure (Question 3); and reduce volatility in funding requirements relating to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System (Question 4). Here is each ballot question we support:

  • YES on 2: “Do you want Maine to expand Medicaid to provide healthcare coverage for qualified adults under age 65 with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level, which in 2017 means $16,643 for a single person and $22,412 for a family of two?”
  • YES on 3: “Do you favor a $105,000,000 bond issue for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities or equipment related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds, and for the upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings?”
  • YES on 4: “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to reduce volatility in state pension funding requirements caused by the financial markets by increasing the length of time over which experience losses are amortized from 10 years to 20 years, in line with pension industry standards?”

The Legislature carried over the bipartisan student debt relief bond initiative known as LD 1163 to the next legislative session. Thanks go to the MSEA Rising members and all other MSEA-SEIU members who took action and will continue to take action in support of LD 1163.

In 2018, we will elect a new Governor, the 129th Maine Legislature, two members of Congress, and a U.S. Senator. By sticking together, we can elect leaders who respect working families and retirees, and who understand the important role that quality public services play in the lives of Maine people. We truly are Stronger Together.

Updated: September 26, 2017 — 9:34 am
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