It’s crunch time for LePage’s bid to insert ‘right-to-work’ language into state union contracts

Whether or not Gov. Paul LePage’s labor contract negotiators were able to convince two of the state’s unions to abandon the requirement that employees pay agency fees will likely be decided today.

More than 9,000 executive branch employees represented by the Maine State Employees Association, state government’s largest union, have until 5 p.m. today to decide whether to accept the deal negotiated by union leadership. The deal includes 6 percent raises in total over the next two years in exchange for the union members agreeing to abandon the requirement that state workers who choose not to join the union pay fees to the union to represent them in contract negotiations, grievances and other matters.

Of the state employees subject to this contract, about 2,300 pay the mandatory agency fees while the remaining 7,000 or so pay full union dues voluntarily.

MSEA-SEIU Local 1989 President Ramona Welton said Wednesday morning that the ballots will be counted after voting closes at 5 p.m.

Another union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents approximately 800 corrections and mental health workers in Maine, is also in the process of voting. Negotiators previously stood firm against ending agency fees and accepted a 1 percent raise over the next two years instead of a 6 percent raise if they abolished agency fees.

Jim Durkin, AFSCME’s regional director of legislation, communication and political action, told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday that the union’s members rejected that offer and are in the process of a ratification vote on another offer. Durkin did not provide details about the second offer.

Abolishing the requirement that public sector employees pay fees to labor unions has long been a goal of LePage’s, which he has failed to accomplish multiple times through legislation. The requirement that all state employees contribute financially to labor unions was put in place in 2003 under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.

A spokesman for the state’s finance department did not immediately respond to questions from the Bangor Daily News.

We’ll keep you posted as things progress. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

Gov. Paul LePage has named the Maine Department of Labor spokeswoman as his new press secretary. Julie Rabinowitz of Falmouth will move to the State House on Sept. 5 after more than five years with the labor department, most recently as director of policy, operations and communication. She’ll replace Adrienne Bennett, who left the position in August for Kennebec Savings Bank. Rabinowitz, who had filled in for Bennett during absences, has a reputation in the press corps as a smart, responsive voice. While her tack may have to change under a governor who has lately taken to calling reporters “pencil terrorists,” she’s no attack dog. Peter Steele, LePage’s more combative communications director, has been running the governor’s media relations shop alone since Bennett left. — Michael Shepherd

Maine’s ethics watchdog will meet today to consider a fine of up to $16,500 against one of the leading Republicans in the Legislature. The Maine Ethics Commission’s top order of business will be to consider a hefty fine against Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Newport, after a staff investigation found that he filed 11 campaign finance reports late for his political committee and 2016 campaign and recommended a penalty of between $11,000 and $16,500 for the violations. The original ethics complaint came from his sister, who filed a civil lawsuit against him last year alleging misuse of more than $1 million in family funds. Cushing is expected to appear at the 9 a.m. meeting and he has agreed with the commission’s findings. A fine in the recommended range would be one of the biggest ones ever assessed by the commission. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Boyhood crush finally comes full circle

This is becoming a bit of a saga but we have another ALF update for you. On Aug. 14, I told you about how I confused a dinnerware brand with one of my favorite 1980s television shows about ALF (Alien Life Form), an alien living with a suburban family. A week later, BDN Political Editor Robert Long related how his wife thought ALF was a professional football league.

Today brings another update and perhaps the Daily Brief’s proudest-ever moment. It comes thanks to Dan Cashman of Bangor, who among other things is the host of The Nite Show, Maine’s own late-night talk show.

“You may or may not be happy to know that I shared your State & Capitol piece on ALF/Melmac (as well as Robert Long’s follow up) with the actress who played Lynn Tanner on the show,” wrote Cashman. “She thought it was funny and awesome. Keeping ALF alive, yo!”

Andrea Elson played Lynn Tanner, ALF’s teenaged (and human) sister. She has appeared on Cashman’s show.

When I told my wife about this, she said “that’s pretty cool” but then there was this weird pause.

“You had a crush on her, didn’t you?” she said.

I was relieved she asked, actually.

“Yeah, wicked bad,” I said. Lynn Tanner and Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years were definitely among my adolescent crushes. As my wife observed, I was not alone in my pining for those two. Men of a certain age will be able to relate.

Here’s our soundtrack from back then, though now it’s for my wife. As far as she knows. — Christopher Cousins

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Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.