AUGUSTA — Union officials representing 10,000 state workers blasted the LePage administration Tuesday for not accepting their offer to extend the current labor contract for two more years with no raises or changes in language.

The lead negotiator for the state said the union surprised state officials with the offer, then rejected a counteroffer to extend the contract for one year with no changes.

With the contract set to expire June 30, both sides said they are hopeful that an agreement can be reached without protracted and expensive negotiations.

Bruce Hodsdon, president of the Maine State Employees Association, said the union made its offer Thursday, and it was rejected Monday.

“We thought it would be good for everybody,” Hodsdon said. “It doesn’t prolong things. Leave the status quo, and we can get back to working our jobs and the governor can get back to creating jobs.”

Lou DiLorenzo, a New York attorney who was hired by the administration for the negotiations, said state officials took the offer seriously but could not extend the contract for two years without concessions from the union.

In particular, the administration is concerned about tax money that is spent on a subsidy for 1,700 to 1,800 employees to pay for their home phones each month. The state pays $9 per month to employees who may need to be reached at home during off hours, he said.

DiLorenzo said the $190,000 spent each year on the subsidy is an “unnecessary and excessive cost,” particularly since many state workers also have state-issued cellphones.

The administration also wants to discontinue the practice of paying union officials’ state salaries when they go to monthly meetings or to the union’s annual convention. That, too, costs about $190,000 a year.

“Instead of Maine taxpayers footing the bill for union business, the union should pay for union business,” he said.

Hodsdon said the union realizes that there’s no money for raises and believes that state workers have given enough through pension and health-care changes in the state budget for the next two years.

DiLorenzo said the state offered the union a new two-year contract with four stipulations: elimination of the telephone subsidy and the pay to attend meetings, plus classification changes and elimination of the requirement that nonunion state workers pay a portion of union dues. A bill to eliminate that “fair share” requirement was hotly debated in the Legislature, and held over until next year.

“They definitely will go after fair share,” Hodsdon said. “The reality is, we’re not going to agree to it, so we’re going to end up spending a lot of money on arbitration.”

If no deal is reached by June 30, the current contract will stay in effect for 90 days, Hodsdon said.

Negotiations are scheduled for five days straight beginning Saturday.

“It’s an ambitious schedule,” DiLorenzo said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]