AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s major state employees’ union filed a labor complaint against the state on Tuesday, alleging it has failed to provide information about how the administration of Gov. Janet Mills is managing workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Maine allowed an estimated 85 percent of its workforce to work remotely in the early months of the pandemic, with some employees returning gradually during the summer months. The Maine Service Employees Association, which represents more than 9,000 employees, says it has pressed for more information on which employees are remote, whether people have gotten sick at work, how much leave has been taken and who has been required to quarantine.
The union’s complaint with the Maine Labor Relations Board alleges that the information has not come, aside from a rough aggregation of employees working remotely and a list of family independence and child welfare workers called back into the field.
That constitutes a violation of the state’s obligation to bargain in good faith and prevents the union from advocating for workers, the complaint says. A spokesperson for the state’s budget department called the filing “surprising and disappointing” in a Tuesday statement.
The union wants the information to help coordinate support for sick workers and to make sure they are getting proper compensation if sickened on the job, said Dean Staffieri, the union president. It is a major escalation for the union, which has been mostly quiet during the pandemic after calling in March for the state to allow more employees to work from home.
Staffieri said it is difficult to ascertain where employees are working now without a detailed list, calling the filing a “shot across the bow.”
“It seems to be something that just keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the list for some reason,” he said.
Federal laws require the state to allow two weeks of paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave if they are unable to work because of the virus. The state has seen several employees test positive, including prison workers, public health employees and maintenance workers, though the union recently estimated that 45 members have gotten sick.
Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa has said the state gives notice to employees if they have likely been exposed to the virus at work and solicited feedback from employees about how to reopen. She has promised to develop work groups to work on the union’s requests that have yet to materialize, according to the complaint.
Kelsey Goldsmith, a spokesperson for the department, said the state has maintained communication with employees, shifted the “vast majority” to remote work and offered support for those struggling during the pandemic.
“We will continue to work with MSEA and our other labor partners to protect employees and provide information as best we can,” she said.