AUGUSTA — Nathan Baker knows that hiring and keeping employees has been hard in the Ashland area, where he works for the Maine Department of Transportation.

“It’s a constant struggle, even though there are numerous vacancies,” Baker said Friday at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government.

He traveled to Augusta from Aroostook County to speak in support of legislation that would put in place a comprehensive review of the state’s classification and compensation system for state government employees working in the executive branch.

L.D. 1854, sponsored by more than two-thirds of the Maine Legislature’s 151 members, would require the state to allocate $1 million to complete the classification and compensation study it started in 2019.

Currently, 1 in 6 state jobs is unfilled; that’s a shortage of about 2,100 workers for the state’s second-largest employer.

When job applicants find out what the starting pay is, Baker said, they walk away. And current employees leave to take other positions that pay more.


“We have three mills in the Ashland area that all pay more than what we’re making,” Baker said. “So in the last four years, we’ve been consistently short six out of 10 employees, and we’re trying to maintain five plow beats with four drivers.”

The added workload carries with it the requirement to work 30 hours at a stretch to keep roads clear and puts the safety of the public at risk, he said.

Baker was one of about two dozen members of Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1889 of the Service Employees International Union, to testify in person in support of the bill.

Rep. Drew Gattine, a Democrat from Westbrook and the prime sponsor of the bill, said he came to work in the state Attorney General’s Office in 1991 in the wake of the state shutdown, when state workers were subject to shut-down days, furloughs and pay cuts.

“Budgets were being balanced on the backs of state employees,” Gattine said. “I wish I could tell you that 30 years later things have changed for the better, but they haven’t.”

Kirsten Figueroa, commissioner of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said in Maine and elsewhere, public sector salaries lag behind what the private sector can pay.


Figueroa said the administration is on track to deliver recommendations outlined in the bill by early next year as the bill would require. The bill would also require a new salary market study, in addition to the one the administration has started.

“We will not be able to do both,” she said. “I know there is concern about how long this has taken.”

She acknowledged that the state’s classification system, which describes the duties and responsibilities for jobs and is used to determine compensation, is four decades old and flawed.

A study completed in 2020 showed that Maine state salaries were on average 15% less than private sector salaries for similar positions, and 11% less than other comparable public sector positions.

Figueroa said state officials have taken some steps to improve compensation by increasing base pay to $15 an hour, a wage increase of 13.6%; making lump sum payments, and improving longevity pay for workers with more than 10 years of service. The state also offers benefits like parental leave and flexible schedules.

Other state workers acknowledged that while flexibility is one incentive the state has to offer, it can’t make up for the fact that state workers need second jobs or help from state assistance programs to pay their bills and feed their families.

Kevin Russell, a West Gardiner resident who works for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said he likes what he does and pay is not his primary driver.

“We have state workers who have been here for 30 years, and they have to apply for benefits,” Russell said. “That should not be a thing. State workers shouldn’t have to suffer from food and income insecurities.”

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