Bargaining News


February 28, 2024

Union representing state workers files charges of labor law violations over pay-gap study

Maine Service Employees Association asks Maine Labor Relations Board to order administration to complete 2020 compensation and classification study as required by state law and four collective-bargaining agreements

The largest labor union representing Maine State Government workers filed charges that the administration has failed to bargain in good faith. The Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989, asked the Maine Labor Relations Board to order the administration to follow state law and the union’s collective bargaining agreements as it relates to completing and implementing a state-commissioned compensation and classification study of state workers.

The legal action by MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 marks the latest effort in the union’s campaign to close what it is calling the state employee pay gap – the difference between what Maine State Government workers earn compared to people doing similar work in the public and private sectors throughout Maine and New England. The study at issue was begun in 2020. A market analysis performed in the first year of the study showed that state workers are underpaid, on average, by 15%, and that the pay gap is far worse for many state classifications such as civil engineers, accountants, mechanics and correctional workers.

However, since the initial market analysis was performed, the administration has dragged its feet on completing the overall study and implementing a new salary and staffing structure that would address the pay inequities. Accordingly, last year the Maine Legislature passed a resolution requiring the administration to complete the study by January 31, 2024, and that the study include a recalculation of the market analysis. The administration failed to complete the study as directed by the Legislature.

The legal action also comes as one in six state jobs, over 2,100 positions, are vacant due to low pay. Members of MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 say the vacancies and resulting understaffing of state services are a direct result of the pay gap and that critical public services ranging from child protection to plowing to environmental protection are suffering as a result. The Maine Department of Corrections recently cited the inability to recruit and retain staff in its closure of two small-scale youth facilities that were meant to serve as alternatives to the Long Creek Youth Development Center. Similarly, the Maine Department of Transportation is now hiring private consultants at $85 an hour or more because it cannot hire enough state engineers at the state’s low rate of pay.

“In our complaint, we’re asking the Maine Labor Relations Board to order the Mills administration to follow state law and our contracts when it comes to completing and implementing the pay and classification study,” said Mark Brunton, president of the MSEA-SEIU Local 1989. “The administration has been dragging its feet for years on this study. Instead of doing its job, the administration is defying the Legislature’s mandate and ignoring its contractual obligations.”

Continuing, Brunton said, “It is clear to me that the administration is not interested in addressing critical staffing shortages and raising state employment up to regional and national pay standards. It is also clear that the Maine Labor Relations Board must order the administration to complete their work to fix the compensation and classification system. We are fully prepared to work with the administration to negotiate the terms of implementation and assist the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services in this effort.”

On July 11, 2023, Governor Mills signed into law a state budget (PL2023, Chapter 412, Part UUU) directing the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services to “complete the comprehensive review of the classification and compensation system for employees of the executive branch that was undertaken pursuant to a memorandum of agreement executed MSEA on June 25, 2019,” and to submit the report by Jan. 31, 2024.

Because the initial market salary report was completed more than three years ago and utilized data from 2019 and 2020, the state law included an express legislative mandate that the completed study shall include “a recalculation of the market salary report using current salary data.”

Similarly, the collective bargaining agreements ratified by MSEA-SEIU members on Dec. 23, 2023, include a memorandum of understanding stating: “The parties agree that the Classification and Compensation study first agreed to on June 25, 2019, and extended on August 17, 2021, will be completed and implemented as required under PL2023, Part UUU.”

However, instead of completing the study required by state law and the collective bargaining agreements, the Department of Administrative and Financial Services submitted to the Maine Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee a report titled Report and Recommendations of the Maine State Government Classification and Compensation Plans Study, dated Jan. 31, 2024, that neither completes nor updates the 2020 study.

“The administration willfully disregarded this legislative mandate. The commissioner’s report made no reference to the obligation to re-run the market salary report at all,” said Tom Feeley, general counsel of MSEA-SEIU Local 1989. “Rather, the report meekly stated that the 2020 Market Study Report is out of date and then made the data-free assertion that the administration has successfully closed the pay gap identified by the 2020 Market Study Report. Given that the administration ignored the legislative mandate expressly requiring that the completed review include a recalculation of the market salary data, the administration failed to make a good faith effort to complete the review. That’s why we’re asking the Maine Labor Relations Board to order the administration to follow the law and our contracts with respect to the 2020 compensation and classification study.”

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