Members of Collective Bargaining Senate Are Told
Next Step in Process is Mediation
The SEA Master Bargaining Team has declared impasse in contract negotiations with Governor Hassan’s representatives. After negotiating for six months, during which SEA members repeatedly told Hassan’s team the demands being made by the employer were flawed, impasse will move the negotiation process one step further to conclusion – mediation.
“By bringing in a neutral mediator, agreements are often reached because a new perspective is introduced. It is an important part of the process that should have taken place a few months ago but didn’t because the teams were so committed to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement that was reasonable coming out of the recession – one that truly worked to the benefit of both the state and the workforce,” said Diana Lacey, SEA President.
The largest struggle has been about timing bargaining priorities in a balanced way. Many state employees entered this bargaining cycle making less money than they did when they last received a cost of living raise in January 2009. Their real life family budgets have been slashed thanks to seeing their health care costs double in 2011, on top of taking a 2% cut to pay due to pension reform measures mandated by law in 2011. One out of four workers are prohibited from being eligible for performance-based annual increases, while another 20% are only eligible every other year or longer.
Unfortunately, the governor’s team approached the table with a typical government strategy, looking only at the new biennium and ignoring the past five years of concessions.
The state employees know they were called upon to help the state during the recent recession; the last SEA negotiated contract delivered its full share of $50 million in savings, and carried forward into the new biennium an additional $14 million in health care savings and $8 million in wage savings for the state. Despite their prior contribution and additional paying it forward, Hassan’s team demanded workers now pay at least 25% of the cost of their raises through higher health care costs starting January 1, 2014.
“We did the math, and there was no way workers were going to be able to take home enough money to pay for more health costs by that time,” said Linda Huard, SEA bargaining team member. “But the Governor’s team was adamant. They threatened us in the final week of negotiations with not asking for any money from the Legislature for raises if we didn’t sign a tentative agreement and take it to our Bargaining Senate for clearance.”
“They asked us to just try, and we did. Turns out we were right about our assessment,” continued Huard. “The irony is, state workers truly cannot afford this so-called raise.”
On June 20, the SEA Collective Bargaining Senate sent the bargaining team back to the table to restructure a state-preferred tentative agreement within the confines of the approved biennial budget.
“All along, the direction we got from the Senate was not about making unreasonable demands for more money,” said Jim Nall, Collective Bargaining Chair. “They understood that we’re coming out of a recession. It was about making sure we negotiated something that is good for everyone – including those we serve each day and those we go home to at the end of each day.”
Negotiations resumed but there was little accomplished. The SEA team members made alternative wage, health care and sick leave proposals, focusing only on the three major areas the Senate had indicated were of concern.
- The SEA proposed a wage package that was less expensive than the governor’s goal. It contained two raises, compared to the state’s proposed three, and was timed to provide some much-needed relief to workers before they’d see their health care costs increase by changing the timeline of the raises.
- The SEA proposed a health plan package that was actually less expensive than the governor’s plan and would yield better health outcomes. It would have given SEA members a better opportunity to prepare for managing the changes to the health plan Hassan wanted.
- The SEA proposed only slight adjustments to the current sick leave plan, rather than increasing the overall sick leave benefit and splitting it into two separate accounts, per the Hassan proposal. The SEA’s version better supports the great work Hassan and legislators have repeatedly stated state employees are doing with a workforce 17% smaller than it used to be, without placing people who have serious illnesses and young families at risk of going without pay; not to mention the eventuality that sick employees would report to work and sick children would be sent to school infecting others.
Eventually, the governor’s team withdrew its changes to sick leave but recommitted itself to the health and wage package it has demanded for several months. The SEA team then declared impasse in an effort to move the process along.
“We all should have done this long ago because the governor’s team has had an agenda all along,” Nall said. “Sometimes, they just need to actually listen and not be such bureaucrats.”
The SEA team will continue to attend contract negotiations as the Hassan team attempts to strike a deal with the NH Troopers Association, who also chose to return to the table. We will send another Bargaining Bulletin once the mediator is picked and mediation dates are agreed upon.