AUGUSTA — After more than two years of bargaining, a contract agreement has been reached between Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine State Employees Association.
Some items are out but raises are in.
If members of MSEA ratify the agreement, the new contract will be effective through June 30, 2015.
For two years, the two sides have argued over what the governor had deemed excessive and unnecessary costs supported by the previous union contract.
“At times, negotiations were contentious, but we were finally able to convince MSEA that there were parts of the expired contract that had to go or be changed,” LePage said in a written statement released Wednesday night.
In the news release, LePage said he was able to eliminate unnecessary phone allowances and state-paid leave for union members to attend their annual convention.
Additionally, the contract will reduce by half the interest rate on reclassifications and tighten up reclassification procedures, eliminate excessive payments for call-out, provide an option for protecting employees’ social security numbers and establish better job security for those who are opposed to paying service fees to the union.
The contract will provide for raises and merit increases for some. LePage said the deal also includes job security provisions for workers who don’t want to pay union fees.
“I appreciate the hard work by all state employees serving the people of Maine,” Gov. LePage said. "We have been successful in making state government more transparent, more efficient and more focused on customer service for both citizens and businesses."
Union general counsel Tim Belcher said the governor agreed to a contract similar to one the MSEA had previously proposed. The proposal, he said, includes raises he described as modest.
"We're happy to have it over with and we're happy with the results," Belcher said. "We had made proposals that were along the lines of this agreement. We're glad (LePage) feels he got something out of it, too."
Belcher said he expects several membership meetings around the state where the agreement will be explained. The plan could bring an end to a long period of negotiations that were at times contentious, indeed.
In the spring, MSEA officials said they had been told to prepare for a government shutdown, a claim LePage hotly denied.
In May, LePage said he had no plans to shut down state government and accused Maine’s state employees union of “lying” and “manufacturing a crisis” by claiming otherwise.
That followed a brouhaha over claims that the governor pressured unemployment claim hearing officers to rule more often in favor of employees. LePage denied those allegations, as well, calling them “outrageous.”
A year earlier, LePage was quoted as calling the middle management of the state "as corrupt as you can be" at a Newport town hall meeting. The MSEA quickly took exception to the comment.
The MSEA represents more than 15,000 public- and private-sector workers.