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

The votes represent a significant victory for Republican Gov. Paul LePage in his years-long power struggle with organized labor in Maine, a key ally of Democrats and rank-and-file state workers who have resisted some of his efforts to shrink or change state government.

David Heidrich, a spokesman for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said Thursday morning that 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, and 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, Heidrich said in an email to the Bangor Daily News.

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

MSEA SEIU Local 1989 President Ramona Welton said in a written statement that the contract contains “meaningful, long overdue” raises for employees — both union members and nonmembers — and avoids other “nasty and unwarranted take-backs that this administration sought.”

Welton said the elimination of agency fees, or service fees as they are also known, will require changes to the union’s “structure,” though she didn’t elaborate how.

“We are confident that we can continue to provide high-quality representation for our members at the Legislature, in grievances and arbitrations and at the bargaining table,” she said.

The AFL-CIO, of which AFSCME is part of, accused LePage of doing the “bidding of corporations, CEOs and the richest 1 percent who want to do away with unions.” Maine President Cynthia Phinney said “we firmly believe that workers are best serviced when everyone shares in the cost of contract negotiations.”

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.

LePage has been trying throughout his tenure as governor to erode the influence of labor unions in Maine, particularly those that represent government employees and has said implementing so-called right to work measures is among his priorities. The ratification of these two contracts is an incremental step, but 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.

This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.

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.