By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DEXTER - In order to protect the benefits they now have, municipal employees say they have no choice but to back a union effort.Some longtime employees say they have watched town officials chip away the benefits of town employees and fear that will continue unless they have some representation. "We're not out to stand in front of the town hall and cause trouble; we just want to keep what we've got," Stephen Taylor, a 15-year employee of the public works department, said Wednesday. When budget time arrives and the pencil hits the paper, "it's always us who gets nothing," he said.
Town officials would be the first to agree that municipal government has taken a back seat in recent years because of declining revenues, increased fixed costs, and higher education and county costs. But legal fees of about $4,000 expended to date by the town for advice on the union have not helped matters, according to Town Manager Robert Simpson.
Municipal employees say they have watched school budgets with wage increases for employees approved year after year, yet they have received no cost-of-living raise in two years. In addition, employees say they are now required to pay more out of pocket for health care and say they have been advised that there may be other changes in the future.
Twenty-one employees are eligible for a union, including full-time police and public works employees, assistant librarians, part-time ambulance drivers and emergency medical technicians, the welfare clerk, deputy clerk and general administration secretaries. The police chief, public works director, tax assessor, town clerk, tax collector, reserve police officers, seasonal workers, elected officials, and per-diem ambulance directors are ineligible.
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the union that is representing the organization effort, and town officials are at odds over the inclusion of the public works foreman and a police sergeant in the union. The Maine Labor Board is expected to rule on the matter within the next few days.
The town claims that Jasper Hatch, the public works foreman, and Sgt. Jim Emerson of the police department are supervisors in the absence of the public works director and the police chief. Ed Willey, AFSCME's state coordinator, noted Wednesday that neither Hatch nor Emerson has taken mid-management training required of supervisors.
Emerson said he supports the effort because the union would have a unified voice. He said town employees recognize the tough economic times and do not want to take advantage of the town. "We'd like to get what we deserve," he said. "We just want to be treated fairly and we don't know where else to turn to get that treatment."
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