October 18, 2013

Maine workers, parks are ‘back in business’

But Gov. LePage’s civil emergency edict is still, inexplicably, in effect.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Visitors to the USS Constitution, the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy, line up to walk up the gang plank for a tour in Boston on Thursday. Federal memorials and National Park Service sites opened, and thousands of furloughed federal workers returned to work Thursday after 16 days off the job due to the partial government shutdown.

The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Tom Severance, a property manager for the U.S. General Services Administration, said he was glad to be back on the job Thursday at the U.S. Customs House in Portland. Severance, who lives in Lisbon, oversees more than 30 properties in southern Maine that are owned or leased by the federal government.

Kelley Bouchard photo

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Employees association representatives met with LePage administration officials Thursday to discuss lifting the civil emergency and recalling over 40 civil employees laid off at the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management. Those workers were not back on the job Thursday.

In a news release sent Thursday evening LePage said defense workers would return to work Friday. However, the governor made no mention of the civil emergency or when he planned to lift it.

It’s unclear exactly why the administration delayed returning all furloughed workers or what concessions it was seeking from the union Thursday.

The bill that Congress passed Wednesday made it clear that states that floated the costs to keep federally funded state employees on the job would be reimbursed, and that furloughed employees would receive back wages.

Chris Quint, director of the state employees union, said there was no reason to delay returning the workers to their jobs.

Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the emergency proclamation remained in place “as an administrative tool” to ensure the “orderly transition back to normal government operations.” Bennett would not say when the governor planned to lift the emergency.

Democratic leaders pressed the governor to lift the civil emergency.

“Since Day One we have asked Governor LePage to narrow the scope of his civil emergency so that his scope of power was transparent to all of us,” Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said in a statement. “Today, his civil emergency is unnecessary and to continue with it is perplexing. Maine workers should not go one more day under a cloud of uncertainty of when they’ll get their next paycheck.”

Earlier this week, the state employees union and the LePage administration struck a preliminary deal on how to proceed if the stalemate in Washington, D.C., went beyond Wednesday – the deadline for the debt ceiling.

The deal assured that state workers laid off during the shutdown would return to their same jobs when the stalemate ended and it affirmed bumping rights, which allow more senior employees to avoid layoffs by “bumping” employees with less time of service out of their jobs.

State workers laid off during the shutdown were encouraged to file for unemployment benefits. However, it appears few of them will actually collect unemployment checks, according to Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman with the Maine Department of Labor. Rabinowitz said that the waiting period built into the claims system made it unlikely that benefit checks would go out to furloughed state employees.

Rabinowitz said there was no way to tell how many state workers filed for unemployment. Claims do not necessarily reflect benefits paid to employees.

“It’s unlikely that we paid very much,” Rabinowitz said. She said there’s a mechanism in the unemployment claims system to ensure that furloughed workers reimbursed by the government can’t collect benefits, too.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com

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