Following 10 months of collective bargaining with Gov. Maggie Hassan’s state bargaining team, the State Employees’ Association announced Monday evening that the members of the Executive Branch master bargaining unit have voted to ratify the tentative agreement that was reached late last month. More than 36 percent of the bargaining unit’s members voted, and more than 80 percent of the votes were in favor of the new contract, which will be in effect through June 30, 2015. By a decisive margin of 1,574 votes for and 385 votes against, the members showed their support.
“It took a lot of work to get here but the members have spoken and are now ready to move forward,” said SEA President Diana Lacey.
The contract provides the first increase in wages since 2009 – three raises that, compounded, equal a 6.12 percent increase over the next 19 months. Contract changes include several first-time health-related provisions, including hearing aid coverage, a stand-alone dental plan that provides up to 25 percent more in current and new dental benefits, annual deductibles in the medical plan, and improved vision benefits.
Deductibles were a sticking point in prior negotiations because SEA member negotiators believed the state was working from inaccurate health cost projections.
“The SEA team knew about the state’s history of over-projecting health care cost inflation during contract negotiations,” Lacey said. “They knew that employees had been a big part of achieving millions of dollars in annual health care savings – surplus money – that kept going back to state agencies to balance the budget. They were sure that out of pocket costs for employees were going to far exceed worker raises. So they got innovative and collaborated with the state to create an agreement that was fair for everyone.”
The same approach carried forward in non-health-related items. State negotiators sought to create a new sick leave plan that would replace the current one.
“We believed their plan would hurt families and that’s a pretty big concern for us,” said Linda Huard, a longtime bargaining team member. “But rather than shut down the discussion, we agreed to form a committee to study the issue. We’ve done things like this in the past, and it generally builds a lot of mutual understanding and suggestions for improvement.”
“Through continued negotiation, we were finally able to develop an agreement that helps mitigate the cost of the deductible for employees while improving the health and dental plan,” said James Nall, chair of the SEA Executive Branch bargaining team. “We were able to take advantage of future health care savings. And we were able to reach the middle ground on leave and pay issues.”
The contract provides new resources for employees to play even more of an active role in the way they use their health care. For instance, there are financial benefits for those who participate in activities that promote better health, like having an annual physical; having blood pressure checked; and getting a flu shot.
Employees can also help promote a more competitive health market in NH by seeking lower cost care at one of Anthem’s Site of Service centers – laboratory and ambulatory surgical services. The price-competitive Compass SmartShopper remains in place, as well. Employees accessing that program receive a rebate for obtaining service from low cost providers.
“In all, we believe this is a fiscally responsible agreement that will not only benefit the state’s work force, but also the many NH residents who benefit from the services these public employees provide each and every day,” Nall said.