President Welton’s column —

Pushing hard for solutions wherever we can find them

Letter3

MSEA-SEIU President Ramona Welton holds our banner listing the over 2,000 signatures to our letter to Governor Mills asking her to address the serious recruitment and retention problem throughout Maine State Government and to end publicly funded low-wage work.

By Ramona Welton
President, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989

The State of Maine’s compensation and classification system was put into place in 1975 — the same year Wheel of Fortune started and the Vietnam War ended.

It was the same year the very first versions of the personal computer were introduced. Suffice to say, few State workers were using them. Since then, virtually every aspect of the workplace has changed dramatically, but the basic structure of the compensation system hasn’t.

We recently surveyed state workers, and the results were troubling:

  • 83% of state workers said their departments are having difficulty recruiting and retaining staff;
  • 59% said they’re considering leaving state service.

For us, these results weren’t surprising.  Over the last year, we’ve heard about recruitment and retention crises with 911 dispatchers, DHHS caseworkers, snowplow drivers, and engineers, just to name a few. These aren’t just issues in one or two departments, but a systemic problem throughout state government.

Under the current system, departments often have to go to great lengths to recruit qualified staff. At Maine Revenue Services, they’ve adopted a practice of hiring employees at step eight, the top of the pay scale. As soon as that employee is hired, they have few incentives to stay in their current position.  They won’t be eligible for the longevity incentive until they’ve reached 15 years of service.

Similar issues exist in the Department of Transportation. We’ve heard from transportation workers who’ve been working for four to five years only to work next to recently hired transportation workers who’ve been hired at step four or five, and are making the same rate of pay as those who have been working with DOT for years.

The State has not followed through on its obligation to review and maintain the compensation and classification system, and therefore has created a problem too big to be solved through the normal methods of addressing these issues. Pay studies, collective bargaining, and stipends are all important tools the state has to address these issues.  But after years of neglect, and crisis-induced adjustments, the current system lacks internal cohesion, and fails to stay current with market conditions. We need a neutral third party to lead a data-driven process that can review the entire compensation system, review job classifications, compile alternative models, and provide an analysis of how state employees’ pay compares to the employers and industries that the state of Maine is competing with.  

That’s why our union is supporting legislation known as LD 1214, a Resolve to Conduct a Comprehensive Study of the Compensation System for State Employees, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson. LD 1214 would ensure a modern and effective state government that can provide the quality public services the people of Maine expect. Read more about it on Pages 10-11.

WE ARE MAKING OUR VOICE HEARD
As you will see by the many members pictured in your April 25 edition of the Maine Stater, we are making our voice heard! We’re advocating for quality services and solutions to critical problems like recruitment and retention.

We’re taking action in the Legislature, in our worksites, and at the bargaining table. On April 22, a delegation of MSEA-SEIU members delivered our letter signed by over 2,000 people, to Governor Janet Mills asking her to address the serious recruitment and retention problem, and to end publicly funded low-wage work. In our letter, we said State Government shouldn’t be in the business of lowering wages or labor standards. Maintenance, construction and administrative workers must share in the prosperity their labor creates. We asked Governor Mills to create a wage floor of $15 an hour so no state worker will have to rely on SNAP to care for their families or work a second job to pay for their housing and health care. As a large employer, the state has a responsibility to help all workers by creating standards that help alleviate poverty. We hadn’t received a response from the administration to our wage proposal by the time we delivered our letter. Thanks to the thousands of you who signed our letter.

Another big event: At our Aprill 22 Statewide Steward Skills Training Program, we unleashed 27 new union stewards into our worksites. It’s truly a labor of love being a union steward. We are grateful for the advocacy by all of our stewards.

There is much work to be done in the coming months — in the Legislature, at the bargaining table, in our worksites. The time to step up and fight for our issues  is now. Together we win!

Updated: May 6, 2019 — 3:32 pm