U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh met with Maine officials including Gov. Janet Mills to discuss the Workshare program at Bowdoin College in Brunswick Tuesday. Payal Gangishetti

The state’s WorkShare program that allows employers to reduce employee hours rather than lay them off has been beneficial during the pandemic, said U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

Walsh said he is confident that Maine will continue to benefit from the Workshare program.

“When you have a program that works like the workshare program, you keep people in those industries because you have made a workflow and made it work for them,” said Walsh during a roundtable discussion regarding Maine’s WorkShare program Tuesday at Bowdoin College.

Gov. Janet Mills said before the pandemic, Maine had one or two businesses using the program each year. But from March 2020 to September 2021, 246 employers across the state took part.

About 5,029 employees worked reduced hours and received partial unemployment benefits, which prevented the layoff of 3,044 people in the past 19 months, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

The program allows employers to keep their skilled employees and hire them full-time again when economic conditions improve. During the process, employees get paid for the hours they work and collect unemployment benefits such as health insurance.

“Department of Labor has been working hard to promote the Workshare program with employers across the state, and I continue to encourage all the businesses to evaluate whether this program might be good for you,” said Mills. “Maine is on the path to economic recovery, and unemployment rates have been steadily decreasing.”

In April, the Maine Department of Labor received a $382,579 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to promote the Workshare program.

Between March 15, 2020, and Aug. 7, 2021, the Maine Department of Labor paid over $2.4 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits. Approximately $1.8 billion was spent through federal unemployment programs, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

Only 26 states have a workshare program. In Maine, the program started in 2011.

Sarah Cox, the vice president of human resources of L.L. Bean said the program has been invaluable to their organization.

“The program was a nuance solution in a situation where we wanted to bring all our employees back into the workplace. We wanted them to stay connected to our organization, and once business bounced back to full strength, we were able to work seamlessly,” Cox said.

Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said the employers are the primary advocates, and they must apply for the program.

“The program was intended as a layoff aversion program, and we are using it to bring people back in,” said Fortman. “There might be some additional flexibility coming in the future around some challenges in seasonal occupation and are excited about partnering with the U.S. Department of Labor.”


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