More than 1,100 state workers wrote letters to Gov. Janet Mills asking her to increase employee pay as part of a new labor contract that is months overdue, according to the union representing state employees.

A group of state workers delivered the letters to the governor on Thursday, saying they are underpaid compared to their private sector peers. As a result of the pay gap, workers and union leaders say, one in six positions in state government – or more than 2,100 jobs – is vacant, leaving offices understaffed and struggling to provide services.

“Throughout all departments of Maine state government, our worksites are understaffed and we are underpaid and overworked,” the state workers wrote, according to a statement from the union. “All the while, the state has record budget surpluses that have come at the expense of substantially underpaying us for the quality services we consistently provide to all Maine people. Studies in 2009 and again in 2020 show that state workers are underpaid compared to the wages earned by our public and private sector counterparts throughout Maine and New England. The 2020 study showed that on average, state workers are underpaid by 15%, and it’s even worse for many classifications – accountants are underpaid 20% to 33%; chemists 24%; civil engineers 20% to 25%; mechanics 31%; and correctional officers 16%.”

Sharon Huntley, director of communications for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said the Mills administration already has increased wages for the unionized employees by nearly 14%. “This increase over four years amounts to 40% more than the increases provided over the entire decade before Gov. Mills assumed office,” Huntley said in an email. “This includes raising pay for employees by 3% in September 2019, 4% in January 2021, 2% in December 2021, and an additional 4% in July 2022.”

The administration also has established paid parental leave for state workers, increased minimum base pay to $15 an hour, and issued a one-time $2,000 payment to employees in December 2021, Huntley said.

Huntley said the Legislature allocated as much as $99 million for collective bargaining, the largest amount ever, and the state is committed to negotiating wages again next year based on an ongoing study of state worker compensation.


The delivery of the letters came as state employees began their fifth month of working without a contract. A mediator is currently participating in contract negotiations between the Mills administration and the union.

The union represents about 9,000 workers in the executive branch of government and includes employees in the departments of education, health and human services, and other executive departments.

“The Mills administration did not unilaterally create the pay gap, but they have not adequately addressed the pay gap,” Mark Brunton, president-elect of the ­­Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, said in a prepared statement. “The pay gap exists and it’s growing. We have made reasonable proposals for the improvement of working conditions and for wage increases to close the pay gap to put state workers on par with their peers. Management so far has refused to make significant movement toward an agreement at the bargaining table.

“We are calling on Gov. Mills to deliver a serious proposal to increase wages across all wage scales and improve our working conditions, and to complete the classification study and send it to the bargaining table so it can be implemented.”

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