Bargaining News

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June 27, 2024

Waitlists, cancellations, delays must end!


MSEA-SEIU members who serve as crew members for the Maine State Ferry Service join in a community forum with Vinalhaven Selectboard Member Leslie Dyer, third from left, on June 4 at the Vinalhaven School Auditorium to discuss the impact of chronic understaffing and low pay at the Maine State Ferry Service. Cancellations of ferries have become the norm lately due to understaffing and low pay.

Understaffing, pay gap taking toll on services as State drags feet on new compensation-classification system

Ferry service cancellations. Waitlists for children’s behavioral and development services. Backlogs for indigent services in child-custody cases. Inadequate programming at Long Creek Youth Development Center. Hold times of up to two hours to speak with an eligibility specialist. Expensive state consulting contracts to make up for understaffing and low state worker pay.

In department after department of Maine State Government, the failure of management to address the real needs of Maine people for public services is becoming more and more apparent every day.

Islanders who rely on the Maine State Ferry Service are demanding that the ferry service take action to address the understaffing and low pay that have resulted in scores of ferry service cancellations. This month, they joined in community forums in Vinalhaven and Islesboro demanding that the ferry service get back on track.

At Child Development Services, over 560 children with disabilities earlier this year remained on waitlists for services to help them make the most of their K-12 public education.

Youths in state custody at Long Creek Youth Development Center continue to languish with inadequate educational, athletic, behavioral and emotional services due to state cutbacks and chronic understaffing.

Maine people trying to reach Maine DHHS by phone to apply for or update their benefits often are put on hold for two hours due to understaffing. The agency’s Wilton Call Center often has turned off its phone lines because there’s not enough staff to handle the calls.

Over 8,913 Mainers this year are on waitlists for substance abuse disorder treatment or mental health services —up from 561 in 2019.

The State’s failure to provide constitutionally required indigent representational services in child-custody cases is a problem that is getting worse, not better. The number of child-protection cases impacted by the lack of indigent services increased from 14 in January to 70 in April, so more and more children are languishing in state custody without any path to resolve their child-protective cases and related services.

A total of 2,581 children were in state custody as of April 1. Our members who work for the Maine DHHS Office of Child and Family Services have testified that their high caseloads are impossible and unsustainable.

At MaineDOT, consultants are being paid $85 or more an hour due to the department’s inability to recruit and retain engineers. MaineDOT workers often leave their jobs and work for consultants earning more money and doing the same work because MaineDOT’s pay is so low.

Such widespread disruptions in state services and the State’s increasing reliance on expensive contractors come as members of our Executive Branch Compensation and Classification Negotiations Team work to negotiate with the Maine Bureau of Human Resources (BHR) to implement a new compensation and classification system. Yet BHR has been dragging its feet in the negotiations even though they are required by law and our contracts to implement a new comp-class system.

Fueling Maine’s public service disruptions is a scarcity mindset among State managers and the administration even though Maine’s Rainy Day Fund is flush at nearly $1 billion. The LePage tax cuts remain on the books; the rich get richer and corporations rake in record profits as workers, public employees, retirees and the most vulnerable struggle to keep up with the cost of living.

Governor Mills continues to embrace the failed austerity measures of the past while continuing to prioritize tax cuts benefiting the wealthy and corporations over the needs of Maine’s working families. In this era of state revenue surpluses, the burden on state workers also has increased as programs and services have been expanded and as the state employee pay gap persists and widens.

There is another way. Massachusetts’ new “millionaires tax” approved by voters in 2022 generated $1.8 billion for that state’s services. Maine must forge a new path forward to fund the services Maine people need and demand.

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Vacancy rates by state department  as of April 2024:

  • 31% vacancy rate at Riverview, 16% at Dorothea Dix, and 13% across the remainder of Maine DHHS
  • 22% vacancy rate at MaineDOT, and 25% at MaineDOT Highway Crew
  • 21% vacancy rate at Department of Professional and Financial Regulation
  • 20% vacancy rate at Maine Department of Education, not including the Unorganized Territories
  • 19% vacancy rate at Department of Administrative and Financial Services
  • 16% vacancy rate at Department of Marine Resources

Source: Executive Branch vacancy list for MSEA-SEIU-represented positions


How to fix it:

1) The State must close the state employee pay gap by implementing a new comp-class system as required by state law and our Executive Branch contracts;

2) Vote for candidates on Nov. 5 who understand the importance of funding quality public services and respecting workers’ rights.

 

 

 

 


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