Saturday, April 13, 2013

Paul LePage's Shocking Bully Politics In Maine


Maine deserves better

Paul LePage, Maine's accidental Tea Party governor-- he won with 218,065 votes, while progressive independent Eliot Cutler took 208,270 and Democrat Libby Mitchell took 109,387-- was trying to decide whether or not to veto a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $9/hour (from the current $7.50) by 2016. And then all hell broke loose in LePage's crazy little world. The local media is reporting that LePage has been pressuring state officials to screw over Maine workers in any disputes that put them at odds with businessmen. His contempt for working family's isn't that much different from most Republicans'-- he just can't keep his fat yap shut about it.
LePage summoned more than a dozen employees at the state agency to a luncheon on March 21 that lasted more than an hour and a half, sources said, to discuss the unemployment hearing process.

Their presence was required, according to an early March email, and attendance was taken at the Blaine House. LePage arrived late from an earlier meeting and then left for his annual vacation in Jamaica.

Also attending the luncheon were political appointees, including the department’s commissioner, Jeanne Paquette, and Jennifer Duddy, 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.

If true, the meeting would constitute “an unprecedented type of political interference in the hearing process,” an expert on labor law told the Sun Journal.

When he fired a worker during his time as a business manager, LePage told the group, it was always for good reason.

The Sun Journal learned about the luncheon meeting through a number of sources whose names are being withheld because they fear retribution by the administration. Nearly a dozen people who attended the meeting were contacted by the Sun Journal by phone, email or both.

Administrative hearing officers, whose salaries are federally funded, explained to the governor at the meeting that they’re required to adhere to federal guidelines in deciding cases, sources said.

Hearing officers, most of whom are lawyers, must send recorded copies of their administrative appeals hearings to the U.S. Department of Labor quarterly for federal review.

LePage was asked by someone at the luncheon meeting about the 30-day federal deadline for holding an appeals hearing and what to do if an employer were to argue that more time was needed to prepare a case. LePage, who is not a lawyer, said that 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 said.

...Lawyers who argue labor cases said they were shocked to hear that the governor would seek to influence the outcomes of hearings that are meant to be based on facts and free from bias.

“Over the 75-year history of the unemployment program, this would be an unprecedented type of political interference in the hearing process, to my knowledge,” anywhere in the country, said Rick McHugh, senior staff attorney with the New York-based National Employment Law Project.

Curtis Webber, an Auburn lawyer who has been representing clients in cases on appeal before administrative hearing officers and the Unemployment Insurance Commission since the early 1960s, said he was troubled to hear that the governor might be seeking to influence the outcomes of claims appeals.

This information, if true, is awful and it makes me feel extremely uncomfortable, although I’m not sure exactly what remedies a person would have in this kind of situation,” he said. “I really think that’s very upsetting.”

A labor lawyer in Portland called the behavior “outrageous.”

“It’s not called jury tampering, but it’s called something like that, using political clout to affect the judge,” Howard Reben said.

LePage, who campaigned for governor on a pro-business platform, said at the luncheon that the actions of the hearing officers were destroying the business climate in Maine, according to sources.

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.

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.
Scratch a teabagger and you will always funding a budding little fascist.

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