“If we were to run other state programs with as little information as they’ve put into these negotiations, we’d be sued by countless taxpayers claiming foul play.”… Linda Huard, SEA collective bargaining team member
The state’s collective bargaining team failed to provide evidence of how their proposed changes to the state employees’ health insurance would affect employees throughout the contract negotiations process. SEA Executive Branch contract negotiators have talked about the state health care proposal since the beginning of negotiations early this year and have been shocked by the lack of information, or even understanding, the state team has about this critical component of negotiations.
The state and employee teams began meeting in January 2013. Prior to that, SEA and state health plan representatives met monthly and were supposed to use those meetings to develop joint recommendations for health plan changes. Instead of doing that, the state Manager of Employee Relations, Matt Newland, frequently cancelled meetings citing scheduling conflicts.
“This design (the state’s proposed changes) came out of nowhere and to this date, Mr. Newland has been unwilling to give us well documented, supporting evidence that employees would not be harmed.” said Linda Huard, SEA bargaining team member. “If we were to run other state programs with as little information as they’ve put into these negotiations, we’d be sued by countless taxpayers claiming foul play.”
In the five years since the last general wage increase was authorized, the workforce saw a 2% pay cut, and more than doubled their out of pocket costs for health insurance. The new state budget was built with automatic savings of over $20m in carry forward benefits from the last concession-filled contract with SEA members. In whole, the average worker is now compensated at levels below 2009’s. “The state’s attitude about our losses seems to be “it’s in the past, we can do nothing about it,” said Jim Nall, SEA’s bargaining team chair. “But workers still struggle with all of the pay losses and our agencies still struggle to hire qualified employees. Critical services are suffering. There aren’t enough employees yet we still try hard each day to meet our missions. The Governor needs to understand – things have gone too far backwards.”
“We had hoped that Governor Hassan would order her team to roll up their sleeves and have a thorough and comprehensive discussion with the SEA team about the health plan and its costs. That never happened, though,” said Diana Lacey, SEA President. “Instead, they just kept asking for another mediation day and yet another. That wasn’t a strategy for success; it wasted precious time. And now, we are entering fact-finding.”
The state was slated to begin the new health plan on January 1, 2014. Generally, a 90 day advance period is needed for everything to work well. “Our team knows that and hoped mediation would result in some facts surfacing. We’re now looking at another delay – probably at least two months – to get to a new deal. It’s incredibly disappointing that there’s still so little information coming from the state. I’m amazed at how poorly prepared they are to reach a deal,” said Lacey.