Yesterday, the NH Public Employees’ Relations Board (PELRB) officially answered the issue of whether hundreds of part-time state employees are considered members of the Executive Branch collective bargaining unit. The PELRB ruled that the State has indeed committed an unfair labor practice and ordered the State to recognize these workers as public employees, re-establishing their important rights guaranteed by the contract.
As you may know, last fall, Matt Newland, the state’s Manager of Employee Relations, suddenly and arbitrarily made unilateral changes to the rights and pay of more than one thousand NH Liquor Commission employees and many other part-time workers in state service. He did so through a memo stating that part-time employees were not considered “public employees.” Newland also refused to hear any grievances about nearly all part-time employees and went so far as to order agencies to withhold and intercept union membership cards such workers were trying to submit so that they could join this fight.
Newland’s decision undid decades of past practice and created tremendous disharmony in the workplace. In response, the SEA filed an Unfair Labor Practice with the PELRB, which now finds the vast majority of these employees do, in fact, have the same contractual rights and protections as their full-time colleagues.
Since the beginning of the recession, full-time jobs are increasingly difficult to find. Many workers, including state workers, have been forced to piece together multiple part-time jobs to earn enough to support their families. At the same time, the NH State Liquor Commission is relying more and more heavily on the efforts of part-time workers to fulfill its mission to raise much needed revenue for the state.
“We are very pleased and grateful to the PELRB for standing up for the rights of the many frontline workers in our retail operations. As a NH liquor store manager, I see firsthand the outstanding work our part-timers put forth,” said Richard Gulla, SEA Director and Steward. “Retail hours are unlike those of 9 to 5’ers. We are open many hours each and every day of the week. We are pleased the PELRB recognizes our part-time workers as being key to the success of NH liquor store’s operations.”
To be clear, this unfair labor practice petition (ULP) was filed well before NH Governor Maggie Hassan took office. “We encourage Governor Hassan to embrace this decision and to carry it forward as an example of employer’s responsibility to treat all workers with dignity, respect and whole people with lawful rights,” said Diana Lacey, SEA president. “She is the CEO of the NH’s largest employer. Her good example will benefit all workers.”
Prior to Newland’s bold and unexpected move, a few grievances had been filed involving part-time employees. It is speculated that Newland’s challenge to their rights to representation may have been in response to this fact. Further, a number of current grievances brought forward by part-time employees have been stalled, waiting for this important PELRB decision. The process can now move forward for these workers who have been waiting to be made whole.
Note: In 1982 the NH State Liquor Commission employed approximately 276 part-time employees. Because of budgetary considerations and the numerous retail hours to be covered, there are now 916 part-time workers; and only 213 full-time employees.