For Len Mannino, switching from fee-payer to full SEA member came down to one thing: his retirement.
“What really drove me to join up to be a full-fledged member really had to do with a conversation I had with our field representative Jean Chellis about the retirement system,” said Mannino, the security director at the Lottery Commission, who had been a long-time fee-payer.
“What she said just made sense,” he said. “We only talked a couple of minutes before I said, ‘You know what? Sign me up.’ ”
What Chellis said was as a non-member he wasn’t contributing to the fight against so-called pension reforms, including the three lawsuits the SEA is involved in.
“Over time, you talk a bit less and start listening more to the other side of the argument,” Mannino said. “In my experience, there are things that make sense on both sides. The question is, where can you bond together for the common good?”
ABOUT SEA PAC
If you’ve never heard of SEA PAC, it is the acronym for the State Employees’ Association Political Action Committee. It is a fund created by voluntary contributions, made by the members of Local 1984. It’s a segregated fund and is not part of the union’s general treasury. SEA PAC is not funded by SEA dues. The purpose of the fund is promote and advocate for members through political action. Members of the SEA’s Political Education Committee recommend and the SEA Board of Directors confirm decisions to contribute to political candidates based on the candidates’ past voting records and answers to SEA questionnaires or interviews. These contributions are taken from SEA PAC funds.
For Mannino, the place to bond together is in defending the pension system. He said when Chellis asked him about contributing to SEA PAC, that idea made a lot of sense, too.
“It seems to me that the best thing we can do to preserve our retirement, to protect it and prevent rogue legislators from ruining it is to become a member and donate to SEA PAC so we can elect people who support public employees,” he said. “There’s no one else fighting to preserve our pensions.”
“Let’s do everything we can to protect the retirement system,” he said. “Does it need to be repaired here and there? I think so and most people would probably agree with that. But let’s make sure we have a voice in that process.”
Although he wasn’t a member for his first eight years at the Lottery Commission, union membership is nothing new to Mannino. In his previous career in law enforcement, he said he was always a member of the union.
“While I was in the police department in Milford, I was the safety officer for our union, and we did a lot of good work,” he said. “There were a lot of serious health issues at our physical location due to the condition of the building. Eventually, we were able to get the town to go before the voters to ask for a new building.”
By the time the new building was approved, Mannino had moved on to work for the state, but it was still good to see his efforts come to fruition.
“In the end, I’m just glad we won and got everybody out of there,” he said.
He’s also been on the other side of the table, having negotiated with unions as a member of Milford’s Board of Selectman and School Board. Working in town government, he’s seen how changes to the pension system can affect local communities.
“The changes that have been made already have cost Milford taxpayers a half a million dollars in 2013 alone,” he said. “People should be stepping up in these communities to make sure that legislators in the next cycle and the cycle after that aren’t doing more harm than good.”
Mannino said he’s long been interested in politics, even as a child. That interest actually led to a short-lived Congressional bid in 2008. He said running wasn’t quite a “bucket list” thing, more that he wanted to see if he could actually pull it off. He started at a simple place.
“Of all things, I went to Barnes & Noble and found a book about running a campaign,” he said. “I went home and thought, there’s no way I could possibly do this while working full time.”
Still, he went through with the process.
“I contacted the FEC and formed my own little committee, Len Mannino for Congress,” he said. “I’m thinking, this is really cool.”
He said he started getting invited to events and what he was saying was resonating with some people. Still, he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep it up.
“Before it got too far, I decided to pull the plug,” he said. “It was probably the shallowest test of the waters ever in New Hampshire. I’m glad I did it though, because I proved that I could.”