AUGUSTA — The state’s largest public-sector union has dropped several paid positions as it braces for hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue loss and some decline in membership now that a provision of a new contract has eliminated a key fee-paying requirement.

Four months after state workers represented by the Maine State Employees Association ratified contracts that gained 3 percent raises in two consecutive years starting in 2018, the effects of eliminating the agency fees requirement with the start of a new year already are showing.

Ramona Welton, president of the MSEA, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, as well as a unit member, did not have the exact amount of the drop in income but estimated it was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“It’s a big number,” she said Tuesday, adding that the loss directly affects the local unit itself and indirectly affects its affiliate organizations.

“It’s a complicated issue, and most people don’t understand the full dynamics,” Welton said.

To prepare, the union restructured and shrank its office staff. Two longtime employees retired and three others were laid off.

Union leadership also began a concerted effort to woo agency fee payers into becoming members.

“The decision to give up service fee was negotiated,” Welton said. “Our members had not seen measurable wage increases under this governor. Some saw 1 percent increases and some did not see fully that. Quality public services are not easy to provide. Members wanted to be compensated. They knowingly made this decision. The state employees are front-line for a lot of business that goes on in this state, and they take the brunt of the negative things,” Welton said.

Jim Durkin, regional director of legislation, communication and political action for AFSCME Council 93, said that when the contract was signed, there were 230 agency fee payers.

“However, since the time we signed until now, approximately 120 fee payers have become dues-paying members and that number continues to rise,” he said. “These men and women are recognizing the value and importance of the union.”

Workers gained a total wage increase of 6 percent “and the cost of that was the service fee for those contracts,” Welton said.

Welton added that it could be re-instituted in a later contract.

Gov. Paul LePage had long sought to eliminate mandatory fees for state workers.

The Maine State Employees Union, known as MSEA-SEIU Local 1989, and state employees represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees both ratified contracts that deleted a requirement that all represented executive branch workers pay an agency fee if they did not join a union.

At the Maine State Employees Association, those fees helped support the cost of collective bargaining — including negotiating contracts — as well as some lobbying efforts directly related to contract funding.

MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 anticipated the income from those agency fees halting Jan. 1, 2018.

Welton said agency fee members could opt for membership or opt out. “If they do nothing, they will cease paying the service fee,” Welton said. “If they become a full member, then they will enjoy the full benefits of membership.”

MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 handles 36 different contracts, but the largest ones are those affecting bargaining units in the state’s executive branch. Welton said the bargaining committee agreed to relinquish the service fees in four contracts there: administrative services; operations, maintenance and support; professional and technical services; and supervisory services.

The contracts with bargaining units of judicial branch workers continue to have an agency fee requirement, Welton said. The contract affecting those in the legislative administrative unit never contained an agency fee requirement, she added.

A 2016 annual report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor shows that the MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 collected $4.90 to $43.20 monthly from individuals in regular dues and agency fees.

There were 8,581 members, including 1,691 retiree members and 159 part-time and associate members. An additional 2,571 people who were not members paid agency fees.

“Twenty-five hundred is not a small amount. It has a direct impact on staffing issues,” she said.

The biweekly agency fee in effect as of Aug. 1, 2017, was $15.04 for a full-time employee.

Welton also said some members — which she estimated at less than 20 — have notified the union recently that they want to end their membership. “It’s an ebb and a flow with members,” she said.

While the union administration imposed some layoffs as a result of the anticipated loss of service fees, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 has hired a new executive director to replace Rod Hiltz, who resigned almost immediately after members ratified the new union contract on Aug. 31, 2017. Hiltz had been in the post since December 2014.

Eric Noyes, of Yarmouth, a longtime union organizer, became the union’s new executive director on Jan. 2. Noyes had worked for the Service Employees International Union since 2001.

“We’re excited to have him on board,” Welton said.

In its 2016 annual report, the Boston, Massachusetts-based AFSCME Council 93, which represents people across Northern New England, reports a total of 35,829 members — all full-time — and 477 agency fee members. The Maine office serves about 2,600 members, including state institutional services employees “who work as correctional officers and sergeants, cooks, mental health workers, laundry workers, and care and treatment workers,” according to its website.

“The state bargaining unit consists of two juvenile correctional facilities and six adult correctional facilities, two mental health hospitals, and a number of regional health care facilities located throughout the state.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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