With the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering, Mainers are flocking to our state parks in record numbers. Camping reservations are skyrocketing again, yet at park after park and throughout state government, the state of Maine is struggling to find workers. It’s a picker’s palace for state jobs – if you can afford to work for the state’s minimum wage of $12.15 an hour.

Nearly 400 workers for the state of Maine currently earn under $15 an hour. a katz/Shutterstock.com

Right now, our great state of Maine is looking for customer service representatives starting at $12.15 an hour at scores of state parks: Damariscotta Lake, Aroostook, Popham Beach, Two Lights, Crescent Beach, Lily Bay, Colonial Pemaquid, Mount Blue, Range Pond and Rangeley Lake. Assistant park rangers also are wanted for $12.15 an hour at Lamoine, Penobscot River Corridor and Eagle Island. Park rangers start at $13.78 an hour and there’s an opening for one on Warren Island in Islesboro; the successful candidate must be able to operate boats, tractors, chainsaws and other power tools.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife is looking for a carpenter who also can operate heavy equipment like skid steers and bulldozers, all for $14.23 an hour. The successful applicant must, as a condition of employment, be available to work nights, weekends and holidays. There’s more in the job description: “This position has the unique requirement of carrying a department issued cell phone at all times to be available to be called into service in the event of emergency. You will be required to advise your supervisor of times when you will not be available due to travel or other circumstances.”

The list of demanding, low-paying state jobs open for hire goes on, including laborers for the Maine Department of Transportation at $13.21 an hour and office assistants for our employer, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, at $12.84 an hour.

Nearly 400 state workers currently earn under $15 an hour. That’s inexcusable. These are the same essential workers who have kept state government running throughout the pandemic and who are dedicating their careers in service to Maine people. As state workers, we deserve to be respected, protected and paid better for our work.

The problem of low wages is rampant throughout every department of state government. It’s a chief reason why the state struggles to recruit and retain qualified workers. The state of Maine is underpaying state workers an average of 15 percent compared to workers doing similar work throughout New England – after adjustments for regional pay differences, according to a new report commissioned by the state of Maine. That report, presented Feb. 10 to the Maine Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee, confirmed the findings of a labor-market survey the state commissioned back in 2009.

The new study shows that rangers in Maine’s state parks earn 25 to 27 percent less than their peers throughout New England. Our colleagues who work as office assistants or office associates at Maine DHHS earn 20 to 21 percent less than their peers.

Even state workers at the top of the pay scale are underpaid. Accountants are underpaid by 20 to 33 percent; chemists, 24 percent; civil engineers, 20 to 25 percent; maintenance mechanics, 31 percent; correctional officers, 16 percent; and correctional captains, 26 percent, according to the new report.

It’s outrageous to see any employer in Maine perpetuate low-wage work, but it’s especially egregious when that employer is our own state of Maine. As an employer, the state of Maine must lead by example and start paying state workers a living wage. That’s why members of our union, the Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989, are demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage for state workers. So far, the state has offered only a $13 minimum wage for state workers. That’s unacceptable.

To be sure, every worker not just in Maine but also across our nation deserves no less than $15 an hour. We support state and federal legislation making that happen. To start, the state of Maine must lead by example, by doing the right thing and setting a $15-an-hour wage floor for state workers.


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