Workers Call on Governor to Make those Affected Whole
SEA members this week cheered an arbitrator’s decision that reversed a unilateral change the state made to lower employee pay. The ruling, which also directed the state to make the affected employees whole with back pay, is a major victory for more than 1,000 state workers.
“The outcome was what it should be,” said member Laurie Aucoin, who testified in the arbitration hearing on the matter. “We knew it was a long-standing practice, and we knew it had to be honored.”
The dispute began 19 months ago, when the state’s Manager of Employee Relations Matthew Newland issued a memorandum rescinding a long-standing practice related to shift differential payments. In response, the SEA filed multiple unfair labor practice (ULP) complaints, and after more than a year of wrangling, the arbitration hearing took place in January.
In yesterday’s decision, the arbitrator found the practice of paying shift differential was established through a state memo issued in 1989, and there was no evidence that the practice had been rescinded since. The practice had been in place and “occurred with such regularity and frequency that employees could reasonably expect the practice to continue on a regular or consistent basis.” Therefore, the practice could not be rescinded through a memo; the differential pay is subject to collective bargaining.
Aucoin, who is the chapter president at New Hampshire Hospital, said the decision affected more than 300 of her coworkers. The positive result, she said, shows the impact workers can have when they stand up for their rights.
“When something happens in the workplace that does not follow our collective bargaining agreement,” she said, “we have to be willing to stand up and continue the fight until we get a resolution that’s fair.”
Shelley Elmes, a mental health worker at New Hampshire Hospital and SEA Director, was personally impacted by the decision and also testified at the arbitration hearing. She said she and her coworkers were very happy to hear the arbitrator’s decision.
“It’s definitely turned morale around,” she said, though many have been wondering what the next step is. “I’ve been telling them, when they have time off, email the governor and ask her to fulfill the order and make us whole.”
During the arbitration, the state asserted that ordering payment of the back shift differential pay would require a legislative appropriation and thus the arbitration decision would be advisory only. The arbitrator, however, addressed this in the decision saying that funds to cover shift differential came from the agency’s overtime budget. “When overtime accounts were deficient, the agencies reallocated funds to ensure that employees were paid their respective wages, including overtime pay and shift differentials….The agencies certainly have the discretion to reallocate resources and funds to comply with the make whole remedy in this Decision.”
“I hope that Gov. Maggie Hassan goes with this decision and makes people whole, and that the state doesn’t drag its feet again on a matter that should be resolved,” Elmes said, noting that the money for differential pay was in the hospital’s budget.
Elmes said she hopes that the state follows the arbitrator’s ruling, and encouraged Gov. Maggie Hassan to do the right thing.
“Make the right decision for your employees,” Elmes said. “Comply with our contract and what the arbitrator has ruled.”
SEA President Diana Lacey said making the affected workers whole was the desired outcome.
“For affected workers paying rent, buying food and heating their home is more challenging now than ever,” Lacey said. “These employees work hard providing critical services, such as caring for veterans, the elderly and the mentally ill; watching over prisoners and responding to emergencies. It is only fair that they be compensated for their time.”
“This situation began under the Lynch administration,” she said. “Gov. Hassan inherited it. We hope she will fully uphold the arbitrator’s decision and make sure the funds are available to truly make the workers whole.”