Union uses finance chief’s statements to push for raises for state workers

H. Sawin Millett
Robert F. Bukaty

H. Sawin Millett, Jr., Commissioner of the Dept. of Administrative and Financial Services, speaks to the Appropriations Committee about details of Gov. Paul LePage's $35.5 million curtailment offer, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA — Maine’s largest public employee union Tuesday called on the state’s finance commissioner to follow his own advice and negotiate higher pay for state workers.

Maine State Employees Association has started a lobbying campaign highlighting comments made last week by Sawin Millett, the state’s finance chief, to make their case for an end to a four-year pay freeze.

MSEA President Ginette Rivard sent a letter to Millett on March 1 in response to his comments about the impact of frozen state longevity and merit pay on recruiting during his testimony to the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee last week.

“The state’s negotiators, working under your direction, refuse to negotiate over pay for the upcoming biennium,” Rivard wrote.

“While the labor board will tell us whether the state’s position is illegal, our members can tell you that it is unconscionable. … we urge you to take action to address the significant problems you identified in your public statements this week,” she added in her letter.

Last week, Millett told the Legislature’s budget-writing committee that the continuing lack of merit pay increases for state workers inhibits the state’s ability to fill positions and keep them filled.

Millett was responding to lawmakers’ questions about provisions in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed biennial budget, which would reduce the size of the state workforce by 100 and continue an already four-year freeze on both merit and longevity pay increases.

“It’s getting more and more visible as we work our way through this period of frozen salaries,” Millett said at the time. “The number of qualified applicants and the desire for them to move within state government has been somewhat exacerbated by the lack of merit increases over time. If you’re a valued employee and you’re in a position where you’re doing good work and your salary has been frozen for four years, there’s a tendency on the part of many dedicated employees to do that.”

In a prepared statement released Monday, Millett said the merit and longevity pay freezes proposed in LePage’s budget — which originated during the Baldacci administration — would save the state $12 million over the next two years.

“While it is true that the freeze on workers’ pay makes it more difficult to recruit potential employees, the governor is faced with a challenge in these times of diminished revenues — continue to provide services to Maine’s most vulnerable populations or provide pay raises to employees,” Millett said. “We are fortunate to have many dedicated employees, and it is my hope that we can provide increased financial incentives to these valued state employees through the collective bargaining process.”

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, said Tuesday evening that there is about $8 million set aside in the current biennium for salary increases for state employees, but that LePage’s proposal was borne from the condition of the economy.

“While there are many tough decisions to make, the governor has a requirement to balance the budget,” said Bennett. “We’ve been able to do that without significant layoffs.”

During a press conference Tuesday in Augusta, Rivard and others continued their arguments. Jim Betts, a claims adjustor for the Maine Department of Labor who is also an MSEA member, said the cuts have tangible effects on services as well as workers’ lives. He said the time it took his department of process unemployment claims has see-sawed over the years between a couple of weeks and more than a month.

“Fortunately, that time is now down to about three weeks,” Betts said, according to a press release from the MSEA. “The staff has been working long hours to shorten the wait and our supervisors are working every day to find efficiencies, to support my co-workers and keep morale up.”

Calton Tripp, a union member who is a mechanic for the Maine Department of Transportation, said compensation packages offered by the state make it difficult to fill vacancies.

“New workers have been hired, trained and receive a [commercial driver’s license],” Tripp said. “But because they haven’t had a raise in over four years, they’re leaving and going into the private sector for more money. The state of Maine has actually created an endless cycle of hiring and training workers.”

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Thomas Hamilton's picture

longevity pay increases

Merit pay for doing a better job is a good thing. Longevity pay for simply staying on the employed roll does not seem to me to warrant a pay increase. In real life increased pay results from increased productivity an doing a better job.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Merit fails on cost of living increase and much, much more

Merit , from those that hold the purse would mean, just like it does now, no automatic COLI...meaning you hold people into the minimum wage arena and stifle their keeping up with the cost of living. Those that fail to do the job are let go through the process of SOP's established that Unions and the Employer have (agreed) upon.

Merit pay means you are not considered or ever being eligible for benefits or wage increases, if that employer wants to eat out of your fridge.

Because you have no voice or power to hold that employer to a higher standard for human rights and dignity in the workplace, unless people stand united and work under a contract. Just like a contractor works under a contract to establish the job and maintain a living for his family and maybe own a company of workers that make him a living and keep his business in operations for a very long time.

It is called sharing the wealth instead of treating others like slaves and as one employer once said to me,"Why should I care about their miserable lives as long as they make ME money"

Thomas Hamilton's picture

merit pay

Wow! Lots of rhetoric here. Cost-of-living increases are a good thing ... but more money simply for holding on to a job without improved quality or efficiency ... hummm sounds like socialism.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Holding on to a job without improved quality or efficiency ...

Ah, and your baseless knowledge of the jobs performances of quantitative increase or performance of efficiency is an issue.

You see I know for a fact being that I have been a Union member for over 30 years and my wife works for the State, I can speak from first hand knowledge.

Now I know that my wife and her co-workers in her department she runs, answers to Commissioners an they have proficiency standards and are held accountable for job endurance, performance and increase in training to better themselves and the services they provide for the people. MY wife works from home one day a week and I never see her except for lunch and works more hours than she gets paid for under a Union contract, so that she provides the utmost assistance for the elderly and the handicapped citizens and cares for them and not about the money.

Sounds like you are a tbagger worried about socialism, that you probably have your hand in, instead of people getting paid for doing their jobs that are accountable to the people of the state.

Thomas Hamilton's picture

merit pay

Gosh! So much of what you write are non sequitur statements. What does "performances of quantitative increase" mean? or "accountable for job endurance"? So much bombastic rhetoric sounds thoughtful but does not say much. The fact that you wife works from home is not relevant to the issues of longevity pay or merit pay. You say I sound like a "tbagger" do you mean the nefarious Tea Party folks? You are too quick to unfairly typecast me ... sorry that's not me ... in fact just the opposite.
Sorry, can't write more, I have work to do.


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