Low Spirits, Little Holiday Cheer at Liquor Stores

SEA President Diana Lacey, center at podium, speaks during a press conference Thursday morning at the Legislative Office Building in Concord to announce that the SEA had filed two unfair labor practice complaints against the state Liquor Commission on behalf of workers at NH Liquor Stores.

State Employees’ Association Files Unfair Labor Practice Complaints Against the State.

Despite recurring years of banner sales and unprecedented revenue for the state of New Hampshire’s coffers, the NH Liquor Commission is putting the squeeze on its retail sales force.  As early as July 2012, disturbing allegations of mistreatment against Commission employees were reported to the State Employees’ Association (SEA).  A short time after the SEA began investigating these allegations, unilateral changes to the rights and pay for more than one thousand Liquor Commission employees were implemented by the State through a memo stating that part time employees were not considered “public employees.”

SEA staffers hold signs in front of Liquor Commission headquarters Thursday morning protesting poor treatment of NH Liquor Store workers.

The change in treatment of the workforce comes at a time when the Commission is under close public scrutiny for alleged mismanagement.  The Commission, as part of the Executive Branch, falls under the watchful eye of Governor Lynch and its rank in file employees are covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, SEIU Local 1984 and the State of New Hampshire.

“Today, we have filed two unfair labor practice charges with the Public Employee Labor Relations Board against the Liquor Commission.  With liquor store sales and profits skyrocketing, how appropriate is it for the state to be marginalizing the very workers who make those profits possible?  This is truly the ‘Walmartization’ of the state,”  said Diana Lacey, President of the SEA.

Prior to taking legal action, the SEA has talked with the Commission’s representatives, Kelly Matthews, Human Resources Director, Commission Chairman, Joseph Mollica, Commissioner Michael Milligan, and Matthew Newland, Governor Lynch’s appointed Manager of Employee Relations for the State of NH.  The SEA tried for four months to urge the State to rescind the policies the Commission recently implemented.  Last Friday, an additional meeting included representatives from Governor Lynch’s office, the Attorney General’s office, and Commissioner Linda Hodgdon and Director Karen Hutchins of the Department of Administrative Services.  No change resulted, thereby exhausting all of the SEA’s options at informal resolution of the issues.

Today, the Liquor Commission’s retail store part time workforce outnumbers its full time workforce by  six to one.  With 1,200 part-time positions, the Commission routinely staffs stores with more part time employees than full time, and typically schedules them for less than 30 hours per week so that they cannot access the State’s health insurance plan or earn retirement benefits.  Employees who work less than 30 hours per week also have rights under the SEA contract, including the ability to earn a raise based on good performance, and holiday pay, vacation and sick leave benefits on a prorated basis – but only if they are considered classified (public) employees.  By arbitrarily declaring these 1,200 workers are not public employees, the Commission has cut these workers – some of the lowest paid in state service – to the core and put their families in harm’s way.

At this point, Liquor Commission workers feel they have no recourse for the treatment they are receiving.   The Commission has stopped participating in labor-management meetings to amicably resolve conflicts.  Several workers have been involuntarily transferred to stores farther from their homes, demoted, terminated or targeted in some other way, as if being punished by management for asserting rights more than 30 years old.  Employees have said publicly they are afraid every time they go to work that “this might be the day I’m transferred or this might be the day I’m fired.”

The Liquor Commission has been in operation for 79 years and its employees have fallen under the rights conferred to them within the SEA contract for 36 years.  The House’s recent investigation of the Liquor Commission captured the woeful treatment of these workers.  After learning that retail workers’ pay was cut, Chairwoman Lynne Ober stated that she has researched private sector retail operations and pointed out that most stores pay their part time workers time and a half for Sundays and holidays.  She questioned why the State would treat its lowest paid workers so terribly.

If you would like to take action and show your support for the NH State Liquor Store workers, sign this petition that will be presented to the State.

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