Nonunion state employees were told Tuesday that they’ll be fired if they fail to pay a service fee to the Maine State Employees Association.

That’s got a national right-to-work organization up in arms and some nonunion workers crying foul.

“No one should be compelled to pay union dues in order to work,” said Stefan Gleason on Wednesday afternoon. Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

“There’s a lot of animosity, absolutely,” said Brian Hodges of Greene, who works for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

The multipage memo handing down the pay-or-be-fired ultimatum came from Kenneth A. Walo, director of the state’s Bureau of Employee Relations. It was e-mailed to state employees.

If they don’t pay, “The state is required to terminate your employment,” Walo wrote to employees informing them of the dues or fee payment requirement.

Maine and the Maine State Employees Association negotiated a contract earlier this year requiring the payments from nonunion members to the union.

The payments are to be equal to weekly dues paid by union members, less an amount determined to be used by the union for political purposes.

Walo said that works out to $3.35 per week starting this July and $6.71 per week starting next July. After that it goes to 73.9 percent of the MSEA dues. Right now that’s $9.10 per week.

‘Political payback’

The slightly lower service fee is allowed, said Walo, because the state can’t force its employees to pay for the union’s political activity.

Gleason, however, said that requiring nonunion workers to pay union dues is purely political.

“We feel that this move is a political payback to public sector union officials,” the right-to-work advocate said.

“I think everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” countered Walo.

Walo also said, however, that it will be Gov. John Baldacci who signs the contract with the MSEA requiring the payments.

Walo suggested that the fees aren’t that big a deal. New hires for the past two years have been required to make the payments to the union if they chose not to join it, he said. The requirement was extended to longer-serving workers during the recent contact talks, he said.

But because contract negotiations are conducted behind closed doors, the nonunion employees were never told they could face the charge until after the state negotiated the contract with the MSEA.

“That’s where a lot of the animosity comes from,” said Hodges. “It was suddenly sprung on us.”

The service fee requirement has some nonunion employees planning a wide range of actions, including an informational session set for noon today at the Augusta city office complex.

Others are planning a variety of stalling measures: appealing the amount they’re being assessed, refusing to pay and claiming religious objector status to the payments in lieu of dues.

Some also are calling for the MSEA to be decertified as a bargaining unit when the just-negotiated contract expires in two years. That happened a while back in Washington state, noted Hodges, when the union there sought similar payments.

Pay fair share

Dana Graham, the MSEA president, calls those unhappy nonunion employees “just a small group.”

Graham said there were about 2,400 state employees who rejected MSEA membership until now. Since the contract provision became known, 200 of those employees have joined the union and another 200 have signed up to pay the service fee voluntarily, he said.

He defends the fee as simply requiring nonunion employees to “pay their fair share” of costs to conduct negotiations and represent union members’ interests.

Once the fee is being collected, nonunion members will be given access to union labor lawyers and other representation.

“We’ve been supplementing these nonmembers for the past 25 years,” Graham said. “It’s about time that they pay their fair share.”

Gleason said the NRWLDF has been hearing from Mainers upset by the provision. The foundation will be sending some lawyers to Maine next week to review the contract provisions and other material sent to state employees, he said.

The lawyers will be attempting to determine if any of the provisions or actions might be unconstitutional.

“We want to know how was it adopted,” he said of the fee-in-lieu-of-dues requirement. “How was it implemented?”

“We’re following it closely,” he said.

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