BANGOR, Maine — Union members of the Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union are calling upon the state for better pay and benefits for state transportation workers as they renegotiate their contract.
Union member for the Maine Department of Transportation Brian Markey said how grueling it can get, especially in the winter. He said the longest shift he's worked was for more than 40 hours during a snowstorm back in 2017.
"The first five years of plowing commercially out on the public streets of Maine taught me a lot of things I would’ve never known if I never plowed," Markey said. "The extreme environment that the plow drivers are subjected to is very, very tough and very stressful."
Union member David Boudreau has been working for the state transportation department for three years and said he's noticed how hard enticing new or retaining current employees can be when pay is not enough.
"The average age [of workers] there is 56 years old, which is kind of hard when you have to plow for 36 hours," Boudreau said. "They just can't get the people to come in or stay, because of the pay wage."
A market study done in 2020 across all state benchmark jobs shows base pay for these workers is consistently below market average compared to private sectors.
The state said it has made great strides for employees in the past, negotiating a $15 minimum wage, expanding eligibility to childcare reimbursement, and more for the 2021 to 2023 contract.
According to Markey, with rising inflation, it's not enough anymore.
"You can go work for private companies making substantially more, and people nowadays they look at the dollar," Markey said. "There's a big gap from where we are to where we need to be."
Markey and Boudreau said they are currently in the early stages of negotiating with the state and hope their concerns are taken into consideration moving forward.
NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to the MaineDOT for an interview, but they were not available at the time. Instead, a statement was issued from Sharon Huntley, Director of Communications for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services:
"This Mills Administration believes deeply in the value of public service and in promoting public sector work as a meaningful career and looks forward to continuing to support State of Maine employees as we undertake this next round of contract negotiations."