Gov. Paul LePage

Two of the state’s largest public sector labor unions have agreed to eliminate the requirement that all employees pay union fees whether or not they are members.

David Heidrich, a spokesman for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said Thursday morning that both the Maine State Employees Association, which represents more than 9,000 executive branch employees, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents approximately 800 corrections officers and mental health workers, notified the state Wednesday that they have ratified two-year contracts.

Both unions eliminated agency fees in exchange for higher raises than the state was offering otherwise. Both unions will receive raises of 6 percent spread over the next two years, according to Heidrich.

MSEA negotiators had tentatively agreed to that deal but AFSCME negotiators had initially refused to budge on the agency fees elimination and had agreed to a total 1 percent raise. AFSCME’s members rejected that agreement last week but ratified the second deal Wednesday, said Heidrich in an email to the Bangor Daily News. Union officials did not immediately respond to questions.

“We’re very pleased that the burden of service fees is no longer hanging over the heads of our nonmember employees,” wrote Heidrich.

Union officials have previously told the Bangor Daily News that eliminating agency fees would cut into their revenues and exacerbate their efforts to represent employees in contract negotiations, workplace grievances and other issues. The unions are required under Maine law to provide those services whether they collect agency fees or not. Both unions resolved to continue their work representing employees.

Gov. Paul LePage has been trying throughout his tenure as governor to erode the influence of labor unions in Maine, particularly those that represent government employees. While the ratification of these two contracts is an incremental step, it can’t be counted as anything other than a win for the governor, though some 10,000 state employees are also now in line for healthy raises to what for many are salaries below what they might be able to earn in the private sector.

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