LePage’s ‘right to work’ contract gambit clears state union votes

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. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • A Democratic gubernatorial candidate was fined $100 for an ‘inadvertent’ campaign finance violation. Patrick Eisenhart of Augusta got some mercy from the Maine Ethics Commission on Thursday. He was supposed to file a campaign finance report on July 17, but he wrongly thought he didn’t hit the $1,000 threshold for reporting because a processing company took a cut of more than $371 out of his total haul of $1,250 in seed money for the Maine Clean Elections Program. Eisenhart told commissioners the situation was complicated when his wife, who is his treasurer — came down with an illness and the error wouldn’t happen again. The ethics watchdog reduced a preliminary penalty from $168 to $100 for filing late, calling it an “inadvertent” violation from a first-time candidate for state office. — Michael Shepherd
  • The bipartisan friendship between Senate President Mike Thibodeau and former House Speaker Mark Eves has lasted since Eves left the Legislature. Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick who is now running for governor, told a group of people at a Maine People’s Alliance event in Lewiston on Wednesday that Thibodeau, a Republican from Winterport, taught his kids how to ice-fish in February. Their friendship blossomed quite publicly during the 2015 fight over a state budget with LePage, when they were unlikely allies during negotiations. — Michael Shepherd
  • The Maine Republican Party has donated $2,000 to students in Oxford County. The money came from a raffle of New England Patriots tickets won by Josh Kelton. The funding will benefit the Strong Starts, Strong Minds program, which sets kids up with back-to-school supplies and classroom needs, according to GOP Chair Demi Kouzounas. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • None of us want ‘creepos,’ but … It was somebody’s birthday, they wanted to make new friends and they wanted to know “any one wants to hang around the coolest person in the world.” However, they wanted “no solicitations and harassment from creepos and other crazies.” But this is Craigslist.
  • Teddy, the mesmerizing gambling man, may win big. A woman who went to Oxford Casino recently was “mesmerized” by Teddy, a worker who “kept laughing at my friend as she cursed and lost the table you were working at.” She wants to chat. He already got the money for the house. Maybe he’ll get the girl next.
  • Store brand or name-brand? A man came across a Hannaford worker stocking shelves in Windham, calling him a “very handsome guy.” However, he also said it “looked like you were having a bit of trouble finding where the Frosted Mini-Wheats went. It sounds like the Kellogg’s brand, but I always go with the store brand. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Programming note

The Daily Brief will be off on Friday because of our shortened summer schedule and also on Monday because of Labor Day. Don’t think about politics and we hope you enjoy the last real weekend of our beautiful summer. Here’s your soundtrack.

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.