The end of triple holiday pay, 100 percent employer-paid health care benefits and annual pay increases are among the concessions being sought as officials negotiate new contracts with two unions representing Maine Turnpike Authority workers.

If employees do their part to cut costs, the authority might be able to reduce an anticipated 25 percent toll increase in 2013, Director Peter Mills said Monday.

“It’s just that things have crept into the contracts over the years, and we are trying to figure out how to clean it up and be fair to the people who pay the tolls,” said Mills, a Republican appointed by Gov. Paul LePage.

The two unions represent nearly 300 of the MTA’s 462 workers. Their current contracts expire Dec. 31.

Workers are willing to make some concessions, but they should not suffer for any ethical lapses during the tenure of former director Paul Violette, a union negotiator said Monday.

“We feel like management is trying to use the attention drawn by their own mismanagement — the gift cards, junkets, overpriced bottles of wine — and using it as a way to go after employees and their wages,” said Brian Oelberg, chief negotiator for Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, a unit of the Maine State Employees Association. “These people work hard,” he said.

Violette resigned in March amid questions about lavish spending and financial misconduct.

The concessions Mills is seeking include:

Eliminating triple pay for working holidays.

Ending longevity bonuses for longtime employees.

Eliminating the ability to “cash out” unused vacation and sick pay.

Reducing the employer contribution to health insurance benefits. The turnpike authority currently picks up 100 percent of the premium cost for employees and 85 percent for dependents.

Increasing flexibility for setting work schedules. For example, people called to work on short notice, such as to remove a deer carcass off the highway, are paid a minimum of four hours. If they are called to work again on the same day, they must be paid for at least four more hours. Mills said one worker was paid for 32 hours in a single day.

The wages of the largest group of employees, toll collectors, start at $16.23 an hour.

But step increases, longevity pay and overtime pay can boost salaries.

Turnpike documents show that the highest-paid toll collector last year earned $54,400, including $4,700 in overtime.

There are two unions at the authority: Local 33, which represents about 40 supervisors, and Local 1989, which represents about 250 workers, including toll collectors, mechanics, dispatchers, snow plow operators and customer service representatives.

Negotiations began in the summer, and parties on both sides continue to push for an agreement. That’s a big improvement over negotiations between LePage and the Maine State Employees Association, which represents 10,000 state workers.

The MSEA filed a complaint last month with the Maine Labor Relations Board, alleging that the state violated provisions of Maine labor law covering good-faith bargaining, protections against discrimination, and coercion of employees. That contract expired June 30, and both sides are now in mediation.

The current turnpike contracts are three-year deals that include a 3.25 percent pay increase every year for the past three years.

The new contracts would also be for three years. Mills said he wants a pay freeze for the first two years, but he’s offering a pay increase for the third year in exchange for concessions.

Those concessions would amount to a 10 percent reduction in pay and benefits for some workers, Oelberg said, and it would be difficult to convince members to accept such a deal.

The turnpike authority has a Triple-A bond rating, he said, and is “flush with cash.”

Instead, his negotiations team is willing to freeze wages for three years in exchange for keeping the rest of the union contract in place, Oelberg said. He said members have told union leaders that health insurance is the most important benefit and they want to protect it.

Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, a member of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he supports Mills’ efforts to reduce labor costs because toll increases would cause more people to drive on state roads and would raise road repair costs for state taxpayers.

It’s also a question of fairness, he said.

“I understand that people need to make a living, but why should these public-sector jobs pay so much more than the private sector?” he asked.

Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he wants to respect the negotiations process. Still, he said, turnpike authority workers need to “come in line with what everybody has to live with in this day and age.”

Mills has been trying to cut costs at the agency. The authority has proposed a 10 percent cut to its 2013 revenue-fund budget, which includes all necessary spending to keep the toll highway operating, from $43.9 million to $39.4 million.

Mills told lawmakers in September that all tolls are expected to increase by about 25 percent in 2013, primarily to pay for the borrowing cost of the $165 million widening project from York to South Portland, which was completed in 2004.

The last toll increase was in 2009, when cash tolls rose 55 percent statewide.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

[email protected]