Maine Labor Relations Board Upholds the State’s Right to Manage its Operations after Union Contracts Expire

August 6, 2012

For Immediate Release: Monday, August 6, 2012
Contact: Adrienne Bennett (207) 287-2531

AUGUSTA – On Monday, the Maine Labor Relations Board (MLRB) issued its decision in a prohibited practice case filed by the Maine State Employees Association (MSEA) against the State of Maine. In April the MLRB Executive Director had dismissed the complaint for failure to state a violation of law. Today the MLRB rejected MSEA’s argument that the State’s right to reorganize or contract out for services expired with the union contracts.

The case involved the question of whether the State of Maine could continue to take actions authorized by the expired union contracts while the parties are bargaining for a new contract. MSEA had argued that most provisions in the contracts authorizing the State to take actions expired when the contracts expired. Specifically, MSEA objected to the State’s contracting out for services and reorganizing certain state agencies. In concluding that the State’s rights under the contract do not expire with the contract, the MLRB stated that to find otherwise would have been contrary to the Board’s long-established case law.

Julie Armstrong, attorney for the State of Maine in this case, applauded the decision. “This decision affects all public employers in Maine. Had MSEA prevailed, it would have given unions an unfair advantage in contract negotiations," she said. "If public employers were required to abide by all the terms of the expired contracts that benefit workers but were no longer allowed to take the actions necessary to effectively manage its operations, there would be little incentive for unions to agree to new contracts, especially in difficult economic times when there may be no money available for salary increases.”

John McGough, Governor LePage’s Chief of Staff, also made comment on the case Monday. “Today’s decision reaffirms that the Administration is well within its right to reorganize state government. The reorganization of state agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services is critical to the Administration’s mission to develop a more fiscally responsible and accountable government,” McGough said. “This attempt by the Union to delay the process is yet another short-sighted maneuver against the Administration.”

The MLRB decision will allow MSEA to file an amended complaint, but it would have to allege specific facts that the State violated established practices and contract language when it contracted out or reorganized agencies. Because the express language of the expired contracts allow contracting out and reorganizing and because the State has a long-standing practice of taking such action, MSEA could not prevail under the standard set out in the MLRB’S decision.