The largest union representing Maine government employees has filed a complaint alleging the state violated labor laws by refusing to bargain in good faith.

The complaint, filed Friday with the Maine Labor Relations Board by the Maine Service Employees Association, says the state and its chief negotiator have refused to meet with the union unless the union agrees to demands concerning the size of its bargaining team and whether non-team members should be able to observe negotiations.

“The state has refused to bargain collectively as required by (state law) and has interfered with, restrained and/or coerced employees,” the complaint reads.

The union represents about 9,000 workers in the executive branch of government and includes employees in the departments of education, health and human services and other executive departments.

The two sides have been at odds over how negotiations would be conducted since December, when Bureau of Human Resources Director Brenna Bissell raised concerns about the union’s intent to have a 25-member elected bargaining team, according to the complaint.

Bissell said that size would violate current contract language that limits the union’s negotiating team to 12 members – three from each collective bargaining unit – plus the president and vice president.


Angela MacWhinnie, the union’s chief negotiator, disagreed, saying that the limit only applies to the number of people who could receive administrative leave to attend negotiations, not the overall size of the bargaining team, the complaint said.

The day before the first scheduled negotiations meeting in January, Bissell called MacWhinnie to cancel, saying she didn’t think the parties should meet if they couldn’t agree on rules.

The same issue arose again when the time for the second scheduled meeting, on Feb. 2, came around.

“Bissell then reiterated that the State would not go to the bargaining table unless MSEA reduced their bargaining team to three members from each bargaining unit and agreed that no other State workers would join the parties at bargaining,” the complaint said.

Bissell, MacWhinnie and Dean Staffieri, the union president, met this week, but were unable to resolve the issues, and the complaint was filed Friday.

“While we made clear we would meet yesterday and communicated twice to attempt to set up logistics, Ms. Bissell made clear her demand that she and her team would not meet unless she was able to restrict the size of our negotiations team and exclude observers, including stating ‘I will pick your team for you,’ ” the union’s bargaining team wrote in an email to members Friday. “This behavior is unlawful and unacceptable.”


A spokesperson for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services dismissed the complaint as inaccurate but but did not respond to specific allegations.

“We are deeply disappointed to hear this grave misstatement of facts and look forward to addressing it in our response before the Maine Labor Relations Board,” Sharon Huntley said in an email Friday. “Since the beginning of the Mills Administration, we have sought to ensure all State employees are respected and provided appropriate compensation and benefits…. We hope we are able to initiate contract negotiations soon, consistent with the agreed upon language of the contract, so that we may continue to support State of Maine employees.”

Staffieri, in an interview Friday night, said the union is trying to take a different approach to negotiations with a larger bargaining team, and by opening the proceedings to other members to observe.

He said he sees those things as positives and is optimistic the state will eventually come to see the union’s proposed terms in the same light.

“This team is larger than the last team we had and the reason is that we felt some previous teams weren’t a good representation of the diversity of our work force,” Staffieri said. “We felt that having more folks there that are in different bargaining units and doing different kinds of work would allow us to do a better job of negotiating with the state.”

He said the union is eager to get negotiations underway.

“We’ve been doing a lot of prep work and have a lot of proposals to share with the state,” he said. “We’ve been ready to go now for quite a while but the state has not been willing to meet with us … There are a lot of serious concerns workers have and we want to get to work.”

Note: The story was updated Monday, March 6 to include a response from the Mills administration.

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