Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), whose disdain for working people is no secret, last month told state Labor Department hearing officers, who decide unemployment benefit appeals, that they better start deciding more of those cases in favor of employers who want those benefits denied, the Maine Sun Journal reports.
Along with the hearing officers, LePage called in political appointees, including the department's commissioner and the chairwoman of the Unemployment Insurance Commission.
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.
Maine AFL-CIO President Don Berry called LePage’s efforts to pressure the hearing officers to rule in favor of employers over workers is “a gross violation of due process.”
The governor's actions are not only legally and ethically reprehensible they also undermine the economic security of Maine workers who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. All Maine workers deserve a fair hearing.
The hearing officers’ salaries are federally funded and unemployment benefit appeals are governed by federal guidelines. For example, an appeal must be heard within 30 days after it’s filed to ensure the case is not dragged out. But when a hearing officer asked what should be done if an employer argued for additional time past the 30 days, the paper reported LePage responded, “if allowing additional time for employers meant missing the federal deadline, ‘so be it.’”
Some of the agency's workers said they felt abused, harassed and bullied by LePage's tone and rhetoric, which they found intimidating and made them afraid they could lose their jobs if they didn't skew the outcomes of their appeals cases in favor of employers, sources say.
Howard Reben, a labor lawyer in Portland, told the paper that LePage’s comments were “outrageous." ( See related story. )
It’s not called jury tampering, but it’s called something like that, using political clout to affect the judge.
But the meeting was not the first time, according to the Sun Journal, that LePage has tried to influence hearing officers to side with employers’ attempts to block workers’ unemployment benefit claims.
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.
LePage’s arm-twisting meeting is just the latest example of his anti-worker, pro-corporation attitude. In 2011, he ordered a labor history mural be removed from the Department of Labor because of complaints from business owners who said it was hostile to business. He signed legislation rolling back the state’s child labor laws and weakened workers’ compensation laws. Also, he supports "right to work" for less legislation.