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Maine panel rejects bill allowing public sector workers to strike


A proposal that would have allowed public sector workers in Maine to go on strike was shot down by a key legislative committee amid opposition from state and local governments.

The Legislature’s Committee on Labor and Housing on Wednesday rejected a bill that would have allowed state, county and local government employees – including workers at state colleges and universities – to go on strike to protest working conditions and collective bargaining issues.

The measure was scheduled for a public hearing on Thursday, but its sponsor and chairman of the committee, Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, moved the bill directly into a work session where the panel unanimously approved a motion that it “ought not to pass.” Sylvester left the meeting before the 9-0 vote was taken.

Under the proposal judicial employees would have been allowed to strike as well, unless their job responsibilities didn’t include public safety or due process services.

Other municipal employees, like police officers, firefighters and other first responders, also would have been exempted from the right to strike under the bill.

Most of the written testimony submitted for the bill was in opposition to the proposal, with state university systems urging lawmakers not to approve it.

Steven Bailey, executive director of Maine School Management Association, said allowing teachers to go on strike would create “chaos and confusion” in public schools.

“It is indisputable that strikes severely disrupt the education of children and the lives of their families,” he wrote in testimony against the bill. “What we need now is stability – something this legislation does not provide.”

Stephen Gorden, president of the Maine County Commissioners Association, said allowing county workers to go on strike would hold up crucial financial transactions, health care services and other vital government functions for the public.

“During the few times state government has shut down due to state budget impasses, Mainers have quickly come to experience tremendous hardship and inconvenience – even though the shutdowns have not impacted employees deemed essential,” he wrote in testimony. “These are experiences that most of us do not want repeated.”

Kate Dufour, of the Maine Municipal Association, said local governments are concerned that the proposal didn’t exempt other municipal workers from engaging in work stoppage. She, too, urged the committee to reject it.

“The maintenance of roads during winter storms allows for safe vehicle passage,” she wrote to the panel. “The work accomplished at public works facilities ensures that water remains potable, and that wastewater is treated and disposed of appropriately. Employees of municipal airports ensure the safe departure and arrival of flights.”

Nick Murray, policy analyst for the Maine Policy Institute, argued that public sector workers are different from private sector employees because they provide vital services to their communities that would be “severely disrupted” by strikes and job actions.

“If the employees of a private company go on strike, consumers can shop elsewhere during the strike,” he wrote. “If government workers go on strike, Mainers who need to interact with a healthcare facility, licensing agency, or public school would have no other outlet to receive these crucial services.”

Likewise, he wrote “if public services are ground to a halt from an employee strike, all taxpayers, not willing investors or consumers, are on the hook for those costs.”

This article was originally posted on Maine panel rejects bill allowing public sector workers to strike

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