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Case No. 10-IR-01
Issued: June 3, 2010

In re:
Maine Community College System

Petition for Interpretive





On March 9, 2010, the Maine Community College System filed a
petition for an interpretive ruling regarding the application of
a recent statutory change in the provisions of the group health
plan under the State Employee Health Insurance Program in Title
5, ch. 13, sub-ch. 2.  The question presented by the petition is
whether 5 M.R.S.A. §285(7)(A)-(C) requires the Maine Community
College System to change the amount of its contributions for
employee health insurance premiums and to require cost-sharing
from employees.  The question involves the interplay of 5
M.R.S.A. §285 with the University of Maine System Labor Relations
Act, 26 M.R.S.A. §1021 et seq.  Pursuant to this agency's rules,
the petition was served on the Maine State Employees Association
and was posted on the Board's website.  Responsive briefs were
filed by the Maine State Employees Association/SEIU Local 1989
and AFSCME Council 93 on April 1, 2010.  The Board met to
deliberate this issue on May 20, 2010. 

     The Maine Labor Relations Board is authorized by 26 M.R.S.A.
§968(3) to issue, either upon its own initiative or upon request,
advisory rulings interpreting the provisions of Maine's public

[end of page 1]

sector collective bargaining laws.  To that end, the Board's
Rules establish a procedure for filing a request for an
interpretive ruling and provide guidance for determining when it
is appropriate for the Board to respond with a ruling.  Section
41 of the chapter of the Board's rules dealing with prohibited
practices addresses interpretive rulings.  The initial portion of
that section states the appropriate circumstances for an
interpretive ruling:
     § 41.  Interpretive Rulings.  An interpretive ruling is
     a means for determining specific questions as to the
     prospective rights, obligations, or liabilities of a
     party when controversy or doubt has arisen regarding
     the applicability of a specific statute, Board order or
     rule.  A petition for an interpretive ruling may not be
     used to resolve factual disputes between adversaries
     and may not be used as a substitute for other remedies
     provided by the collective bargaining laws.  

MLRB Rule Ch. 12, §41.   

     The essence of the System's request is whether it would be
committing an unfair labor practice if it were to unilaterally
require its employees to contribute to the health insurance
premiums when the System has been paying the full amount of the
employees' premiums for many years.  Answering this question
requires the Board to first attempt to discern the meaning of the
recent amendment to 5 M.R.S.A. §285(7)(A)-(C) and then, if
necessary, determine how that interpretation comes into play
under the University of Maine System Labor Relations Act.   

     In its brief, the Employer presents various arguments
supporting its position that the changes to §285 dictate that it
require employees to contribute to the health insurance premium.
It is undisputed that the general purpose of the amendment is to 

[end of page 2]

reduce the State's payment of the individual employee premium
from 100% to somewhere between 95% and 85%, depending upon the
employee's annual pay.  While employees of the Maine Community
College System are clearly eligible for the group health plan, it
is not at all clear whether the changes that impose premium cost
sharing apply to the System.  The Employer's argument includes
the historical development of the system, possible interpreta-
tions of ambiguous language, the cost-saving purpose of the
amendment, and the intended unified framework for administering a
single health insurance plan.  The Unions dispute both the
appropriateness of addressing this question through an
interpretive ruling and the argument that the statutory change
was meant to apply to the employees of the Maine Community
College System.

     We have reviewed the material contained in the briefs and
conducted some basic research into the legislative history of the
recent amendment.  Based on the arguments presented by the
parties and this independent research, we can only conclude that
the application of the section to the MCCS is not readily
apparent.  We suspect that there may be information available
regarding the development of this amendment to §285, the
financial assumptions made in developing the proposal, and
relevant facts regarding the operation of the group health plan,
the budgeting process for the MCCS, and the accounting mechanisms
used for administering the health plan.  With these facts, the
answer to the question presented may be discernable.  It is not
appropriate, however, for this Board to address the question
through an interpretive ruling, particularly when it involves the
interpretation of a statute that is outside of the Board's area
of expertise.
[end of page 3]

     On the basis of the foregoing discussion and by virtue of
and pursuant to the powers granted to the Maine Labor Relations
Board by the provisions of 26 M.R.S.A. § 1028(1), and 968(3),
the petition for an interpretive ruling is hereby DISMISSED.
Dated at Augusta, Maine, this 3rd day of June, 2010.



Peter T. Dawson

Karl Dornish, Jr.
Employer Representative

Carol B. Gilmore
Employee Representative