UnionMaine

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State Employee? Do you think you have Seniority?

Bumping Rights for Maine State Employees stink and you can’t put lipstick on that pig.


In the right kind of seniority system, the rights of workers with greater seniority whose jobs are abolished to replace (bump) workers with less seniority so that the worker who ultimately loses a job is not the worker whose position was abolished. Not in Maine.

First, let me say thank you to our fellow Union members, Local 1984, in New Hampshire. The SEA had a great article on “Bumping rights 101″ on their web site and this piece is strongly based on that article. We share many of the same concerns.

In Maine a bill has been put forward to get rid of seniority pay as a way of getting rid of older employees. The focus is on the bottom line, not retaining experienced employees to serve the citizens of Maine.

Fairy Tale

You may think you have “bumping rights”, but that is mostly a fairy tale unless you work in Augusta and even then you can lose your job while watching a new hire enter a building accross the street. You have almost no bumping rights except to vacant positions. In this economy there will be no vacant positions. Will the State try to eliminate bumping rights? They did. We lost any real bumping rights and Seniority rights years ago. We pretty much let the State take away our job security, they didn’t do it alone, we let it happen and even helped make it happen. Bumping rights are often misunderstood by the public and by MSEA members. What, are are bumping rights – and why would we want to preserve or better them at this time?

Bumping Rights 101

In the simplest terms, “bumping” means the displacement of a junior worker by a senior worker to avoid the layoff of the senior worker. The principle is sometimes referred to as “last hired, first fired.” In Maine the ability to bump is almost gone. The State has configured “unit divisions so that they can pick who they want to fire and when”. If you have thirty years of State service in the same job, but you are in a small unit division, maybe the only one in your class and a layoff happens in your unit division, you are out of a job.

They may have hired someone in your job class the day before in Augusta, but you work in Waterville…..too bad, good bye, do not pass go, do not keep your job. Bumping rights is a practice rooted in good, sound, core business practices. MSEA stewards and activists listen to your and know what’s most important to members. They have not lost sight of the need to preserve and better these rights.

In this economy bumping rights have taken on a new level of importance. State of Maine employees used to have State wide bumping rights. You had the right to choose to bump another junior employee in your area and they in turn could bump another employee in an adjoining area or even much farther away. A senior employee knew their job was secure due to their many years of service and valuable experience.

Now the State operates under the “unit division” method. To make it clear, you can be in the Dept. of Labor and so can the employees across the street, but you can be in different “unit divisions”. You can watch the new hire enter the building across the street while you pack the remains of twenty years memories in a cardboard box and go home.

In Public service and private industry, good managers know the importance of a highly skilled and experienced workforce. Recently AIG made the argument that millions of dollars of bonuses were needed to keep experienced staff and after a lot of speeches Congress agreed. The value of an employee who has been trained, and has developed loyalty and dedication through years of service can not be ignored.

Most businesses know the risks that come with mishandling the workforce. Abusing or marginalizing the workforce, taking punitive actions in response to temporary conditions. In the long term employees will be demoralized, and become disloyal, while the State hires inexperienced replacements for highly qualified staff.

The preservation of bumping rights supports the good practices touted by the most successful industries and public sector agencies while avoiding the serious risks that come with a loss of experience and loyalty. The proof that bumping rights promotes loyalty to the employer and preserves a qualified workforce was described well in an article on the Local 1984 website.

A retiree named Michael Andosca, Jr., of Webster, wrote: “Rarely needed, bumping rights are one of the rewards for faithful service; every faithful servant who can demonstrate the ability – by training or certification – should have the option of bumping down in order to keep working. Junior employees, however eager to please, need to pay their dues before they, too, can enjoy the benefits of seniority rights.”

Current bumping rights and recall rights must be a primary concern for any State employee. Current bumping rights are the result of a long history but are now 180 degrees away from good management practices. During the past, administrations have invested in initiatives designed to retain a qualified workforce. Fearing a substantial reduction in the workforce knowledge base because so many state employees can retire in the next 3 to 5 years, the administration made changes to longevity pay in order to retain experienced employees. The fears and risks associated with what is commonly known as “brain drain” are well documented.

Many state governments are facing the same risk and are faced with having to reduce the workforce while at the same time continue to provide quality services to the public. Laying off experienced employees at the top of their range and hiring new employees at the lowest scale has been touted by many as a great idea to save money, but shows no respect for the public or for dedicated, long term employees.

Why would the State resist bettering and preserving bumping? There can be only one reason: they intend to selectively target long-term employees for unethical reasons. Long term employees are more likely to be Union activists and to be at the top of the pay scale. The State is planning to punish and retaliate against workers who have earned a better paycheck or have been active in the Union. Politicians and agency heads would prefer to protect less experienced but “well-connected” favored employees. They would actively engage in age discrimination. Perhaps they simply don’t want to bother with following an orderly lay off process at all.

Why should we fight to improve and protect bumping rights?

1. It is essential to maintaining quality public services, not only today, but for years to come. Bumping rights – and the Personnel Rules that determine how employees are laid off – represent the most orderly and least-complicated process for ensuring that the most experienced and valuable workers are retained when layoffs are needed.

2. Eliminating bumping rights is clearly another attempt by the administration to abuse management authority and attack all employee benefits and protections. We’ve seen the negative effects of management abuse of workers in the private sector. As the largest employer, the State would set a poor example for all employers if they break their promises to their own workers.

3. If we lose bumping rights when we really need them, why even have them at all? We’ve been here before The State warns that there will be workplace chaos if bumping rights are changed or improved. The truth is jobs will be saved and Human Resources is unwilling to do the work needed with their highly reduced staff to manage bumping in the right way. At the same time they are being pressured to allow senior employees to be targeted as a budget reduction tool.

Leaving bumping rights as they are will end with disastrous effects. This year the employees at the Levinson center in Bangor lost their jobs. Even skilled nurses could not walk across the street to the Dorothea Dix center and bump. They had been exiled to a Unit division with no way to bump. DHHS had been ordered to reduce budget last year and agency heads identified the Levinson center as employees with no recourse.

In New Hampshire, SEA fought the State for nearly a decade and finally won reinstatement for 54 of 58 employees represented by SEA that had been fired under similar circumstances. The State paid tens of thousands of dollars in back pay. Why? Because these workers had been selectively targeted by the agency heads for elimination. Experience proves that the chaos predicted by Human Resources and even by some Union members will only happen if the State makes mistakes in handling a painful process in an incompetent and understaffed fashion. They will do it unless we can stop them.

Rubbing Salt into the Wound

To make matters worse, the resistance to improve bumping rights includes even more disturbing rehire provisions.
Currently, laid off workers who are qualified for future vacancies must be allowed four refusals. You have to actually be offered a job and refuse four times to be kicked off the list. The State wants be able to kick you off if you refuse two interviews.

If they don’t like a Union activist, or someone who could come back in at top step, in Portland, what do you think the chances are that the first two interviews for jobs will be in Caribou?

The proposal rubs salt into the wound. A laid off worker would watch a non-laid off worker, or worse yet, someone entirely new to state service, be eligible for a job that the laid off worker could not be eligible for simply because they wanted to stay with their family.

The same employees could watch an existing worker with no seniority or even a new hire take their job just because they work in a different building. This State has nearly succeeded in eliminating bumping rights already and has created the opportunity to retaliate against long-term workers. There is no other reason why the current set of rules is being fiercely protected by the State.

What do we need to do?

Contact your Union, 1-800-452-8794 and tell them to protect and improve your bumping rights. We are the UNION and that means you, your co-workers, all the way up, and every MSEA elected leader, needs to be part of that discussion.

You should:

Call or write to the members of your negotiation team. Call the Union and leave them a message.
Ask them to improve the current Bumping language – which has been in place for many years, is obsolete and does not protect your seniority rights. Tell them that improving bumping rights is good business practice and will protect quality public services for years to come. Tell them that ignoring bumping rights will leave many valuable State employees open to discriminatory treatment, and personal and political attacks that will harm State operations and cost taxpayers more money in the long run.

Let them know that allowing senior employees to be targeted in the middle of a recession sends a chilling message to workers everywhere that it is OK to abuse management authority. Lastly, but extremely important, is to talk with newer employees about the reasons we need to preserve bumping rights. The threat of lay-offs shakes out in the workplace many different ways.
It is important that we talk to each other, and help each other, during these difficult times. Long term workers have seen many more injustices happen in the workplace than short term workers; bumping rights could seem to be an unfair practice if a newer worker hasn’t been around long enough to personally witness selective hiring or firing practices play out.
Self-preservation is a keen sense that needs to be respected and understood. Newer workers may feel more at risk if bumping rights are retained and long term workers need to recognize that fact.

The bottom line:
Remember that weak employee rights will only allow employee rights to continue to get weaker.

But I don’t want to get involved, I don’t care, it won’t happen to me.

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April 26th, 2009 Posted by narsbars | Maine State Employees, SEIU 1989, bumping rights, seniority, state employee lay offs | no comments

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