The Maine Office of State Fire Marshal committed a “flagrant violation” of a union contract and chilled union activity by telling employees to fight out their workplace differences, according to a panel charged with enforcing collective bargaining laws for public workers and employers.

The Maine Labor Relations Board concluded that an unnamed lieutenant in the fire marshal’s office made changes to mileage reimbursements and the way employees swap shifts without going through the collective bargaining process. The office also infringed on union rights when the lieutenant made anti-union comments and told one district’s staff to settle their disputes in a boxing ring, the board said. The violations took place in 2022.

“The Maine Labor Relations Board (‘Board’ or ‘MLRB’) finds that the Employer did unlawfully interfere with bargaining unit employee rights during the staff meeting and through its unilateral changes in flagrant violation of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement,” the board said in a Dec. 18 report.

The board ordered the office to stop infringing on workers’ rights and revert back to the old policies until changes can be negotiated through the collective bargaining process. The agency has about 40 employees and  oversees investigations into fires and explosions and enforces life safety codes for buildings.

Shannon Moss, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the office, would not say whether the lieutenant faced any disciplinary action, saying it was a confidential personnel matter.

“While we disagree with their findings we will comply with their order and revert our policies on shift swaps and travel reimbursement to the prior practice and attempt to make the appropriate changes through impact bargaining,” Moss said in an email. “We’re also working to memorialize the changes in a memo for bureau-wide dispersal.”


The board’s order comes after lawmakers launched an investigation into workplace complaints. Those complaints, and the complaint about contract violations, were filed before a new fire marshal was named in February 2023.

The Maine State Law Enforcement Association, which represents workers in the fire marshal’s office, filed a complaint with the labor board after management tightened up policies on mileage reimbursements and employees swapping work shifts. In May of 2022, the office limited shift swaps to workers within the same geographical area and for up to a full week at a time, whereas the union contract allowed swaps regardless of geographical areas and time periods.

That July, the office changed its reimbursement practice for employees participating in multi-day trainings. Rather than continuing to reimburse workers for mileage from their homes to and from the training location for each day of the training, the office limited reimbursements to a one-way trip each on the first and last day of training.

That same month, a lieutenant, who is not named in the board’s report, called a staff meeting at one of the three district offices to discuss the “work environment situation” between a sergeant and subordinate investigators. The lieutenant told the group that “they needed to either work it out or plan to fight, because neither he nor the sergeant are going anywhere.”

“The Lieutenant used the word ‘fight’ multiple times during the meeting,” the board said. “During the Lieutenant’s talk he compared the workplace to a boxing ring and said that if the boxers didn’t leave their corners they couldn’t come to the center of the ring and figure it out. While using this metaphor the Lieutenant physically acted out a boxing match.”

Moss said the lieutenant was using a “boxing metaphor” during the meeting, but would not comment further on the board’s characterization.


While the board also described the comment as a metaphor, it said the lieutenant’s words and body language were “belligerent” and “could reasonably be said to have sent a chilling message regarding the employee’s union activity, and would thus tend to interfere with the free exercise of employee rights under the act,” given the grievances filed against him.

Although the lieutenant said the meeting was not related to the union grievances against him, the board said his actions were hostile toward a captive audience of employees and “could have reasonably been seen by the employees as an attempt to harass and intimidate them because of their protected activity.”

The union attempted to address the contractual violations through appropriate processes, but was often ignored by managers, resulting in a complaint being filed with the board that September, the board found.

The report comes months after lawmakers launched an inquiry into the workplace culture at the fire marshal’s office. The complaints came to light when Richard McCarthy, a 22-year veteran of the department, was appointed as the new fire marshal, replacing Joseph Thomas, who held the post for more than two decades.

Lawmakers on the Government Oversight Committee ordered its watchdog agency, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, to conduct a survey of employees in March.

Thirty-three of the department’s 39 employees responded, expressing a litany of concerns ranging from confusion over the office’s basic mission, complaints about workload and alleged unprofessional and misogynistic behavior and comments.

McCarthy said in a Nov. 30 response to the survey that steps were being taken to address a myriad of concerns, including claims of a hostile work environment.

“Hostile or dysfunctional work environments can only be corrected when you build trust and improve relationships with all employees in the office,” McCarthy said. “A workplace cannot function correctly with any sort of hostility by either employees or management, and we will not tolerate this behavior.”

The oversight committee ordered the survey results and McCarthy’s written response to be sent to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee for further review, and for the fire marshal’s office to provide regular updates to both committees.

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