Flanked by the presidents of the Maine AFL-CIO and Maine State
Chamber of Commerce, Governor John E. Baldacci on March 16 unveiled legislation to restructure the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board. The goal of the restructuring is to end the gridlock that has increasingly frustrated the board’s ability to carry out its statutory responsibilities.
“Both sides – labor and management – agree that the time has come to restructure the board. What began as deadlock on policy issues has increasingly paralyzed the day-to-day administration of the board. The time has come to end the impasse by restructuring the board,” Governor Baldacci stated.
Baldacci called the reform “historic” because it is the first major change in the structure since comprehensive reforms of the state’s injured workers’ system were enacted in 1992.
The bill leaves theboard’s decision-making to employees and employers. It also maintains the independent structure of the board apart from any other state department and preserves the heavy involvement of both labor and management in the board composition.
But it reduces the board to seven members, which Baldacci said keeps it a manageable size, yet one large enough to allow diverse labor and management input. Six of the seven members will continue to be equally divided between labor representatives and management representatives, selected in the same manner as under current law.
The seventh member of the board will be the executive director of the Workers’ Compensation Board, who will serve as the chair and as the chief executive officer of the agency the board oversees. Establishing a single chief executive officer and a clear chain of command will also fulfill the other key recommendation of the management studies that have been conducted. These changes will make the executive officer, as well as the board as a whole, more directly accountable to the citizens of the state of Maine, according to the plan.
The Governor will directly nominate the executive officer who would then be subject to legislative review by the Labor Committee and confirmation by the Senate.
Last spring Baldacci met with the Workers’ Compensation Board and outlined specific issues he wanted the board to address and established a time frame for the board to accomplish the task. The board worked over the course of the spring, summer, and fall to address the issues, but failed to resolve any of the issues. When it became apparent that the board could not overcome the deadlocked situation, Baldacci began developing legislation to alter the composition of the board.
For the past several weeks, the administration has been working with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine AFL-CIO to develop a proposal. The result, LD 1909, has received the support of both organizations.
“It’s about time to see the Comp Board move off the dime,” said Ed Gorham, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, in support of the legislation.
“The stakes are too high for any of us to accept the status quo gridlock any longer,” said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “We believe this legislation is a reasonable alternative and deserves the legislature’s support.”
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