The University of Maine System and the union representing its 420 maintenance and service workers have reached an impasse in negotiations over a new contract.

The two began bargaining in early May and the current contract expired June 30. The union requested on Sept. 18 that a third party mediate the negotiations. The university agreed but the process hasn’t begun yet.

The discord comes as the university system is facing intense financial pressure amid declining enrollment and workers are being hurt by steady increases in the cost of living.

The UMaine System proposed a 3% salary increase as part of a one-year contract extension. But the union said that was far too low, especially in the face of inflation, which is 3.7% now and averaged 8% last year.

“Our folks are living in poverty,” said Ed Marzano, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local Union No. 340. “We need fair wages.”

UMaine System spokesperson Tory Ryden said the system offered the same contract to all six of its unions – a one-year contract extension with a 3% increase in base salary. Three of the unions, including those representing faculty, administrative staff, and clerical and lab staff, agreed to the deal. The system said it is close to agreement with another union and has agreed to mediation with the two others.


Hourly wages for the system’s service and maintenance workers currently range from $15.38 to $34.13 depending on the role. The starting hourly wage for custodians, for example, is $15.38, or $31,990 annually. The starting hourly wage for electricians is $28.59, or $57,180 annually for a full-time employee.

The union has put forward multiple proposals that would raise wages. Marzano said that the system needs to raise pay across the board to ensure that its employees are making livable wages and to match the industry standard it currently falls below. He referred to the $15.38 starting salary as “grotesque.”

The system has not agreed to the proposals and did not answer questions about its decision to propose a 3% pay increase. It also declined to make Ria DeMay, the system’s senior director of labor and employee relations, available for an interview Wednesday.

In its first contract proposal, the union asked for a pay increase of about 18% over three years for all members. In its most recent proposal, it asked for a pay bump of close to 15% for all members over the next three years. That increase would push the salary floor up to $17.80 per hour or $37,024 a year by 2026, which is the current living wage – the amount an individual must earn to support themselves – for a single individual living in Portland, according to the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology’s living wage calculator.

But Marzano says the system isn’t budging.

Financially, the UMaine System is in hot water. The system’s seven campuses are confronting years of significantly declining enrollment, state investment that hasn’t kept up with inflation, and out-of-date infrastructure in need of big-ticket renovations. The system could face multimillion dollar budget deficits for years to come, according to a system analysis presented to the board in August.


The system is taking steps to turn things around. This summer it released a five-year strategic plan outlining how it hopes to bring back students and boost revenue. And earlier this month, it presented a corresponding capital plan to invest $1.2 billion in 400 infrastructure projects.


Marzano understands the system’s financial challenges because of declining enrollment, among other factors, but said that he wants to make sure the maintenance and service employees are being considered as the system moves forward.

“I know enrollment is down but that’s not our problem,” he said. “Whether you have 10 people in a dorm or two you still have to clean the bathroom, vacuum the floor, clean the windows. Who wants to do that for $15 or $16 dollars an hour?”

Marzano said the system needs to prioritize how it spends.

“They want to invest $1.2 billion in infrastructure,” he said, “but who is going to service all the buildings they’re pumping all that money into?”


The faculty union and the system agreed to a one-year contract extension with a 3% pay increase. But Jim McClymer, president of the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine, said he and his members have many of the same concerns as the system’s maintenance and service workers.

“Obviously 3% is not keeping up with inflation,” he said. “Faculty and other employees can’t just keep losing ground to inflation. The system has to find a solution.”

From remote learning to further plummeting enrollment, a lot changed in higher education during the pandemic. The faculty union took the one-year extension so it can take its time to figure out what its members want and need, McClymer said. It plans to begin preparing for negotiations in October and expects to negotiate big issues with the system including pay, child-care support and other family friendly policies and fiscal priorities.

“The system needs to invest in its people,” he said.

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