Republican “pro-business” (anti-labor) Gov. Paul LePage pressured employees at the Department of Labor to decide unemployment-benefit cases in favor of business owners over workers, sources told the The Sun Journal. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show that under LePage, the success of employees’ appeals went down, as employers’ success went up.
LePage is accused of the very serious charge of politicizing the process by pressuring employees at a March 21 meeting to which he summoned state employees of the agency last month.
Bangor Daily News reported:
At that gathering, LePage scolded about eight administrative hearing officers and their supervisors, complaining that too many cases on appeal from the Bureau of Unemployment were being decided in favor of employees. He said the officers were doing their jobs poorly, sources said.
Hearing officers had been told by their supervisors about a year and a half ago that they too often rule on appeals in favor of employees after a company owner apparently complained to the LePage administration following an appeals hearing that ended with a ruling in favor of the employee.
As a result, hearing officers were told to report to their supervisors all decisions they found favorable to employees before entering their formal rulings on those cases. That practice lasted only a few months.
The Sun Journal spoke to “nearly” a dozen people who were present at the meeting, and they report that the hearing officers tried to explain to the governor that they’re required to adhere to federal guidelines in deciding cases. Their salaries are federally funded, which makes this charge even more serious.
Howard Reben, with Reben, Benjamin & March, a labor law firm in Portland, told the Sun Journal in a separate article on due process, “‘It’s certainly a breach of due process for (LePage) to even say anything'” to hearing examiners about their determinations. ‘The hearing officers are quasi-judicial people who have to interpret the law and to suggest that the law should be bent in a particular way is outrageous.”
Rick McHugh, senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project in New York, told The Sun Journal that undue political pressure violates the statutory fair hearing process.
The names of the Sun Journal’s sources are being withheld because they “fear retribution by the administration.” They reported feeling that their jobs were at stake, feeling “bullied, harassed and intimidated” by the Governor, who asked them to do things like missing federal deadlines in order to give employers more time to prepare cases against employees.
Conservatives call this “job creation” because it’s pro-business, but it’s also “unprecedented” interference. A conservative writing for the Sun Journal in an article from 2011 tried to claim that because unemployment claims were down, Governor LePage’s conservative approach was working, “Those figures demonstrate that, under the leadership of Gov. LePage, Maine is experiencing a lower unemployment rate.”
Perhaps those numbers are down because the claimants were being rejected:
Data requested by the Sun Journal from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that the number of cases successfully appealed by employees to administrative hearing officers declined slightly from 2011 to 2012. Over that same period, the number of cases successfully appealed by employers rose by a small percentage.
What else is the Governor up to in order to make Maine more “business” friendly? Oh, just mulling the idea of vetoing a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 by 2016. He has also planning to make his “newly formed Business Advisory Council exempt from the state’s right-to-know laws”. Apparently, “right-to-work” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be by the anti-labor LePage.
LePage might be bringing companies to Maine, but his approach is exceptionally unbalanced and short-sighted. If he has his way, his constituents may not have the money to purchase the goods made by businesses he brings to Maine.
These accusations are serious. They echo the accusations against the Bush administration’s constant politicizing of the process of government. If true, LePage essentially tried to use his political muscle to rig unemployment hearings in favor of employers. It’s one thing to have an ideology, it’s another thing to break rules and laws in order to implement it.
Image: Bangor Daily News
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.