A Letter to the Union Leader on Getting the Story Right

The news that negotiations on the state employee contract concluded mediation without reaching a new agreement and are now headed to fact finding generated two articles (a news story and an editorial) in the Union Leader that SEA President Diana Lacey wanted to respond to.

The following piece was sent to the UL Publisher but was never printed. We thought it worth releasing anyway.

I believe, in stark contrast to your publisher’s note, was a recent UL editorial and news story about state employee negotiations.  The editorial stated the State Employees Association (SEA) needs to, “join the rest of us in the real world.”  While some numbers were included, there is a lot more information you could use in your story.

  • The state employee health plan posted $60 million in surpluses during recent years, and annually posts several million dollars in surplus.  If employees don’t capture the biennium’s surplus compensation dollars in a new contract, that’s like paying for 47% of the raise.
  • We estimate that 7,000 employees will have to pay deductibles (more costly than their so-called raises), or about paying for 18% of the raise.
  • These workers paid forward into this budget approximately $20 million in concessions based on the prior contract’s impact on future budgets, or about paying for 52% of the raise.

Without the Hassan administration finally producing the information that employee negotiators need, it looks pretty clear to us that workers would be paying more than the price of the raise and that would only hurt families.  Thousands of state employees’ take home pay was so deeply cut in recent years that many of life’s niceties have already been trimmed or eliminated; for too many others, it is very difficult to even obtain essentials.  When NH’s largest workforce can’t get by, it hurts local businesses that depend on those customers, even the UL.

We know that over the last thirty years, private employers treated health insurance as a fringe benefit; but state government treated it as a form of compensation.  Negotiations include health insurance cost projections and wages comparisons (mandated retirement costs are factored in, too).  Any time the state could give employees a compensation increase and make the dollar go farther, it did.  Health insurance increases used to be cheaper than paying wage increases because taxes and retirement contributions aren’t paid on health insurance; dollar for dollar that still holds true today.  With NH’s frugality, it is no surprise this pattern of suppressing wage growth with a good health plan went on with little or no opposition from taxpayers.  Why should workers be attacked for saving taxpayers millions?

Today the employees need facts because their families can’t afford to be hurt again; a stop to political gimmicks that make governors look like heroes of working men and women (taxpayers); and to finally get just a little relief from the serious pay cuts they’ve experienced through the recession. It’s what the rest of workers in this real world are trying to get, too.

The UL rarely publishes a fair and fact-filled story about our labor relations or refuses to take a jab at us.  Our futures are inherently connected to the UL’s future, its readers and advertisers, and the rest of NH.  When the UL forgets its own frustrating attempts to get facts out of government, the struggle for improving government accountability only grows.  More importantly, when newspapers with as much relevance as the UL continually calls for employees to bring home less money for their families, our collective future is equally harmed.

We believe it’s time to stop attacking workers and to instead work together to grow NH’s economy.  We hope the UL will too one day.

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