They plow snowy roads and keep our state parks pristine and safe. They help families, children and the elderly who are struggling to get by. They answer 911 calls and deal with some of Maine’s most vulnerable populations. They monitor our wildlife, our water, our air and our soil. They clean and maintain countless buildings, and process an untold number of licenses, notices and permits.

State workers do all that and a whole lot more. And when they don’t do it fast enough, we all notice.

But for a while now, pay for state workers has not matched their importance. As a result, both the workers and the work are suffering.

The time to do something is now. Nearly 13,000 state employees are in their third month of working under an expired contract. The next deal must take steps to the close the long-standing pay gap that exists between state workers and other public and private sector workers with similar duties.

Otherwise, state employees will continue to leave their jobs for higher pay elsewhere.

The largest union representing state workers, the Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, held a rally in Augusta on Labor Day weekend to shine a light on the problem. Members asked state officials to increase wages in order to fill the more than 2,100 vacant positions in state government — that’s right, one in every six state jobs is empty.


A lot of the vacancies can be blamed on low pay. When too many positions are left vacant, that puts a lot of pressure on the remaining workers, leading to even more dissatisfaction. For example, instead of plowing state roads for state pay, truck drivers can make more delivering water for Poland Spring, so they leave, while those left behind have to work grueling schedules to make up the difference.

So maybe the roads don’t get as plowed as well, or the driver is forced to do the plowing while exhausted from long shifts, putting themselves and others at risk.

Or maybe they get fed up and leave, making things worse again.

They same can be said at other state jobs. State parks, for instance, have never been more popular, drawing more visitors than ever. But there are fewer staff members manning those parks, lowering the level of service and increasing risk for everyone.

This recruiting crisis is occurring throughout state government. One job posting after another, asking for custodians, laborers, drivers, secretaries, inspectors, clerks and more, comes with a starting pay below the pay that can now be found easily in positions throughout the private sector.

A 2020 study found that the state’s base pay is consistently below the market average at each point in the pay range. State salaries were on average 15% less than private sector pay for similar positions throughout New England, and 11% less than other public sector pay.


The Mills administration has increased base pay and offered employees more flexibility. But it still doesn’t match up with what others can offer.

Many of the Mainers who remain in state government do so because they like the work and are proud to provide services to the people of their state.

But for a lot of them, that dedication has left them short when paying bills and taking care of their families, forcing them to go on public assistance or take second jobs even though they are working full time.

“As a state of Maine employee, I’m not making enough to live in today’s state of Maine,” one person told a legislative committee last year.

That is simply unacceptable. Maine state employees deserve a livable wage, a wage that matches the work they do, just as Maine residents deserve a robust state government that can fulfill its duties.

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