This is my first negotiation with SEA, representing over 7,000 state employees, whose jobs are as varied as one can imagine. From new employees to those who have faithfully worked for the State for well over 40 years, these people have committed themselves to serve the citizens of New Hampshire to improve the quality of life for everyone as best as they can. They do their jobs willingly, and do it to the best of their ability, everyday throughout the year, 365 days, 24 hours a day in every type of climate and facility one can imagine. They do not do it for the accolades or recognition but because they are committed to their careers and the citizens of our state.
In return, all that is asked for is to be treated with respect, dignity, and compensated fairly. One does not choose to work for the State of New Hampshire to become rich, nor should they expect to be struggling to support their families because they cannot financially afford to be employed by the state. Unfortunately that is becoming more and more common as great and talented people leave state employment. It is disappointing to hear, “I cannot earn enough money to work here anymore.” This is sad, and not a reason people should leave state service. Our average working age is 47 years old, and a full 60% are eligible to retire. These are the facts, not some abstract number that is made up.
The Master Bargaining Team has been meeting regularly with the State negotiating team for over 8 months now; and to say at times it has been overwhelming would be an understatement. Decisions made affect real people, and have serious repercussions. This is serious business and a tremendous responsibility borne by all at the bargaining table.
Our team objective has been to reach a fair contract. Nothing more, nothing less. We have been without wage increases for 4 years, have paid more to retirement costs, work more with less, and watched the State’s coffers produce revenue surpluses recently. While we all recognize the financial hardship the state has faced in recent years, the corner has been turned. SEA members were there to the tune of over $50 million dollars in concessions, while enduring additional job losses of more than $50 million dollars through layoffs and attrition, and it is now time for the state to recognize these facts and compensate us fairly.
Time and time again, during these negotiations the state has asked for more give backs, while ignoring the sacrifices we have made as, “that was in the past – let’s just move on.” And yet the state knows…we paid our concessions forward. The state may have forgotten that, but our families have not. Today, they still feel the sting. Today, they say, “no more sacrifice.”
Now, the state must realize we have given all we can give. Now, the state needs to treat us with a fair contract. Just last week, Governor Maggie Hassan met with labor leaders praising their work. Now, she needs to recognize her own employees in the same manner. A fair contract will accomplish this; our families need one now!
Dennis Meuse works for the Department of Transportation and lives in Bedford.