Christopher Winstead, deputy executive director of workforce development left, listens as Jay Bickford, a facilities maintenance specialist from Bowdoin, reads a petition from Maine Community College System support services employees on Thursday at the Maine Community College System offices in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Maintenance, custodial, accounting, IT and other service workers at Maine’s community colleges say administrators are stalling negotiations for a new contract.

Ten support service workers marched down State Street and into the Maine Community College System headquarters in Augusta on Thursday to demand wage increases for the 165 employees working under a contract that expired in July 2023. One hundred union members signed a petition that says the low wages have negatively impacted employees, the workplace culture and the college system at large.

“The years of frozen merit-pay increases have resulted in the degradation of the quality of work we can perform,” union members at MCCS said in the petition. “The quality of education for students suffers when workers are not paid a living wage that recognizes and rewards longevity and dedication to the Maine Community College System.”

Members had intended to meet with MCCS President Dave Daigler and read the letter. Christopher Winstead, with MCCS’ workforce training division, instead met the 10 employees at the door and said that Daigler was not in the office today.

But Jay Bickford, a facilities maintenance specialist at Southern Maine Community College in Brunswick, still read the letter to Winstead, who served as Daigler’s representative and said he would deliver the message.

“President Daigler has expressed frequently that he values the work that we do in our colleges to help prepare Maine’s workforce, and we are demanding that he demonstrate that through actions, and not just words,” Bickford read from the letter.



Jay Bickford, a facilities maintenance specialist from Bowdoin, leads a group of Maine Community College System support services employees and Maine State Employees Association officials during a march on Thursday in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Some of MCCS’ support services employees represented by MSEA-SEUI Local 1989 make as little as an estimated $15 an hour, according to field representative Katrina Ray-Saulis.

In order to bring those wages up, the union wants to take a two-step approach through an across-the-board increase and merit-pay increases.

Local 1989 is proposing 3% cost-of-living increases for all represented employees for each year. And any person employed at MCCS beyond the one-year probationary period would earn an additional 3% merit increase each year for the two-year life of the contract.

That would mean an employee like Bickford, who earns $21 an hour, would see his wage bumped to $23.60 by the end of the contract.

MCCS administrators have counter-offered two 4.5% wage increases – the same increases negotiated in the expired contract.


“The proposed wage increase is the same offer made to other units in the bargaining process,” Daigler said in a statement. “(That’s) in addition to increases in multiple other non-compensation areas such as doubling the child care reimbursement.”

But for Charles Riggs, a facilities maintenance specialist at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, MCCS’ counter offer isn’t enough. Riggs currently makes $16.94 an hour performing custodial duties and building maintenance.

Riggs lives in Bangor with his fiancee, 2-year-old daughter and four-month old daughter. And he would need to earn $40.18 to make a living wage, according to the Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s Living Wage Calculator. In the nearly two years he’s worked at EMCC, the low wages have had a profound impact on his life.

“I can’t take care of my family like this,” Riggs said with a wavering voice.

As a result, Riggs and his family use public aid to try to get by. Riggs collects food stamps; his wife and children are on MaineCare.

“It’s incredibly stressful that I have to rely on state aid to take care of my family,” Riggs said. “And it’s infuriating.”



Bickford acknowledges taking another job would be a logical next step. Other private schools offer higher wages for similar support-services positions, Bickford said.

And that, the union said, has led to issues with retention rates and understaffing.

“This has been very demoralizing on staff and me,” Bickford said.

But for what he sees as the system’s faults, Bickford loves MCCS, especially the college system’s mission to offer affordable education. In April 2022, Gov. Janet Mills launched an initiative to eliminate community college tuition and fees for Maine students graduating between 2020 and 2025.

“The Maine Community College System funds the future. I like what I do. I believe in what the college does – I believe in the benefit of free education, students deserve it.” said Bickford, who also graduated from SMCC.


In addition to close proximity, Riggs has a nostalgic connection to MCCS. He met his fiancee and closest friends while he was a student at EMCC.

“I have a sentimental attachment,” Riggs said.

Support-services employees say administrators have told the union MCCS does not have money in the budget to meet union demands. MCCS had 19,447 enrolled in the fall 2021 semester across its seven colleges – in Wells, Calais, South Portland, Presque Isle, Fairfield, Bangor and Auburn; and its three satellite campuses – Sanford, Brunswick and Hinkley.

Employees are hopeful, however, that Gov. Janet Mills will direct a portion of the $968 million in the state’s Budget Stabilization, or “Rainy Day” fund to state employees that aren’t making a living wage.

“We look forward to coming to a mutually acceptable agreement,” Daigler said.

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