Top Lawmakers Condemn LePage Intimidation of Unemployed Workers
Democratic leaders of the Maine State Legislature called on the Maine Department of Labor to condemn alleged intimidating and threatening remarks made by Governor Paul LePage to state employees serving as neutral hearing officers in unemployment arbitration cases. LePage’s remarks were first reported April 11th by the Lewiston Sun Journal (LSJ).
According the LSJ, LePage pressured more than a dozen unemployment hearing officers at the Department of Labor to decide more unemployment-benefit cases in favor of business owners. The officers were reportedly called to a meeting at the Blaine House with their supervisors last month and “scolded” by LePage before he went on vacation in Jamaica.
“If this is true, the Governor’s actions represent political interference and intimidation,” said Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland. “We are calling on Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette to repudiate these alleged remarks and ensure that the state employees can continue to serve as impartial judges in these hearings.”
Administrative hearing officers, like judges, are required by federal law to be impartial adjudicators and follow federal due process procedures. LePage’s actions undermine the National Department of Labor’s requirement for unemployment hearings to be an impartial tribunal.
According to the Maine Criminal Code Title 17A, Section 758, obstruction of governmental administration, including intimidation, is a Class D crime.
“It is highly inappropriate for a chief executive to obstruct or influence an independent, impartial hearing process,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick. “These are serious allegations. We are exploring all options to allow hearing officers to do their work independently and ensure fair outcomes for all Maine people.”