AUGUSTA — The Maine State Employees Association filed a complaint Monday that alleges that state negotiators have violated the law during contract talks.

The complaint, filed with the Maine Labor Relations Board in Kennebec County, alleges that the state walked out on bargaining at a critical time, tried to bypass the bargaining process by pursuing legislation and proposed concessions for the MSEA that it did not ask of other unions. The union alleges that the state violated three provisions of law that cover good faith bargaining, protections against discrimination, and coercion of employees.

The sides have been in negotiations since April, and the contract covering 10,000 state workers expired June 30. Both sides agreed to go to mediation in August and talks are continuing, said Tim Belcher, general counsel for the union. He said it was unusual for the union to take the step of filing this type of complaint.

“I think it’s a reflection of just how poorly we think things have gone,” he said. “We absolutely need to get things back on track.”

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said the complaint is a continuation of a pattern that started last week with another allegation about the state’s interest in hiring subcontractors.

“Clearly, this is a 21-page press release,” she said. “Last week, they had another aimless claim toward the administration based on a hypothetical. We anticipate more accusations from them next week.”

The state will have a chance to respond to the complaint and a hearing will be held to consider the merits of the union’s allegations, Belcher said. The union is asking the board to require the state to post a notice acknowledging that it has violated the law and to pay attorney fees related to the prosecution of the complaint.

The complaint outlines some of the proposals put forward so far by the state, including:

*The elimination of the requirement that non-union workers pay a portion of union dues. This issue was debated by lawmakers earlier this year and was held over for consideration next year.

*Allowing the state to stop collecting union dues through payroll deduction.

*Allowing the state to stop paying union officials when they are conducting union business

*Restricting employee access to personnel files

*Limiting eligibility for child care benefits and benefits for elder care

The complaint also outlines what the union sees as an anti-union atmosphere in the state, and argues that LePage made statements “attacking labor unions in general, public employees, and the Maine State Employees Association in particular.” It mentions removal of the pro-worker mural at the Department of Labor and a statement allegedly made by LePage in June that was overheard at the Riverfront Grill in Augusta.

LePage allegedly said the union was “destroying jobs in the state of Maine.”

The union also mentions in the complaint that LePage hired Lou DiLorenzo, a New York attorney, to help conduct negotiations on the state’s behalf. DiLorenzo works for a firm that “previously orchestrated the decertification of the MSEA bargaining unit at the Augusta Veterans Home,” according to the complaint.

Belcher said the MSEA feels it is being punished for being an outspoken opponent of many of the governor’s initiatives. The complaint states that the administration reached agreements with the Maine State Troopers Association, Maine State Law Enforcement Association and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees without asking those unions to make the same types of concessions.

“The administration, the governor, allies in the Legislature, many are adamantly opposed to unions in general, and opposed to this union in particular,” Belcher said. “They’ve created an atmosphere of disrespect for state employees.”

Bennett said the state is trying to work with the union.

“We have sat down with them in good faith,” she said. “Three contracts were negotiated, none of which were enough.”

Susan Cover – 620-7015

[email protected]

 


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