PELRB Finds Steward Faced Retaliation

Decision Asserts Stewards’ Rights in the Workplace

The state’s Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) has delivered a significant victory to state employees, agreeing that the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission (NHSLC) retaliated against a SEA/SEIU Local 1984 steward for her union activities. The decision, which was issued Tuesday, also found that a NHSLC policy regarding sick leave violated the collective bargaining agreement.

The SEA filed two unfair labor practice complaints (ULP) against the NHSLC late in 2012 on behalf of liquor store employees. The PELRB ruled on one of those complaints in October, finding that the state could not arbitrarily strip part-time workers of their contractually negotiated rights. Tuesday’s decision related to the second complaint of anti-union animus, which relates to negative actions taken against employees in response to their union activity.

For Cindy Sanborn-Dubey, the NHSLC worker who faced retaliation, the decision was a vindication.

“Nobody should have to go to work wondering ‘is this the day they’re going to fire me?’” she said. “It’s wrong to be treated that way.”

She said she and her fellow stewards pursued this not just for themselves but for the good of all of their colleagues.

“Not everybody is going to stand up,” she said. “We have to do it for those people who can’t or won’t.”

Anti-union animus complaints seldom receive positive decisions from the PELRB, as it is difficult to prove management’s motives for taking such actions. Despite long odds, the SEA filed the complaint as it was important to defend the employees’ workplace rights.

“The bottom line with this decision is that the Liquor Commission did not respect the contract or the rights of these individuals as stewards,” said SEA President Diana Lacey. “I think it’s important that we thank these stewards for having the courage to stand up for their rights and the rights of their colleagues. The process was lengthy and challenging, but the end result has made it worthwhile.”

While the PELRB remarked that the NHSLC’s treatment of two stewards — Rich Gulla and Tony Perras — left “a lot to be desired,” it ultimately dismissed their anti-union animus claims. However, the PELRB found that that the evidence related to Sanborn-Dubey was overwhelming. Sanborn-Dubey was transferred to a distant store less than a month after a NHSLC district manager opened, read and forwarded confidential union emails written by Sanborn-Dubey. The timing of that, along with Sanborn-Dubey’s attempt to organize a Stewards Day, “demonstrate that the transfer was made in retaliation for Ms. Sanborn-Dubey’s union activity,” the PELRB wrote in its decision.

Perras said the process was stressful, but that he would do it all over again if he had to.

“We wanted to prove a point, and I think we did,” Perras said. “The state knows now that they can’t get away with this.”

He said the decision was reassuring to him as a steward.

“It shows that if you pursue what you think is a wrong and don’t let them scare or intimidate you, you can win,” Perras said.

Gulla, who has since been elected an SEA director, said he was happy with the decision.

“I think it speaks volumes for the way the commission treated its stewards, Cindy in particular,” Gulla said. “I’m hopeful that going forward, they’ll heed the advice of PELRB and try to work more harmoniously with us so we can resolve issues without having to go through the grievance process.”

Lacey added, “After the hearing last year, I think things started to change for the better. There have been some improvements in the labor-management relationship in the Commission but there is still a lot of work to do.  But no one should ever be targeted for their union activity and this decision holds that up as good public policy.”

Sanborn-Dubey was also hopeful for the future.

“We’re on the right path,” she said. “We’re going to get there.”

You can read the PELRB decision in its entirety here.

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