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With Contract Expiring Soon, Maine State Workers Rally For Pay Raises

Susan Sharon
Maine Public
Brian Markey speaks at a state workers rally in Augusta on Saturday.

With a week left until their two-year contract expires, state workers rallied outside the State House Saturday to demand pay raises as a way to address what they say are pervasive recruitment and retention problems throughout state government.

Brian Markey of Kenduskeag is a Maine Department of Transportation worker who says his workplace is a revolving door.

“Since I’ve been there I saw one guy maybe — I think four days, and he just left once he found out what he was gonna make,” he says “I’ve seen some people, as soon as they see their first paycheck, they think, ‘Where’s the rest of it?’ I’ve actually heard them say, ‘Is this it? Is this for one week?’“

Credit Susan Sharon / Maine Public
Maine Public
State workers stand in front of the Blaine House in Augusta on Saturday.

Markey says when he took the job three years ago he was making $13 an hour. Since then his pay has improved, but he says he has been forced to take a second part-time job to cover his mortgage, health insurance and other bills, and now works seven days a week. He says he hasn’t had a vacation in three years.

Markey’s situation is not uncommon. Dean Staffieri, vice president of the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, says a recent survey of more than 1,000 state workers found that about 1 in 5 has to work a second job just to make ends meet.

“One job should be enough,” Staffieri said, leading a chant.

A vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Maine Department of Labor, Staffieri says the survey also found that 82 percent of state workers are concerned about their ability to retire.

“There are people who do work into their 70s. I have a co-worker who is 80,” he says.

Joann Whipple is an elder abuse investigator for the Department of Health and Human Services who says in addition to concerns about low wages and their ability to retire, workers are facing rising health care costs.

Contract negotiations are scheduled to resume this week.