Wages or Management Prerogative?


Claire Pstragowski, the principal at SYSC, testifies at Thursday’s hearing before the Public Employee Labor Relations Board.

Earlier today, respective counsel for SEA/SEIU Local 1984 and the state of NH presented their cases to the NH Public Employees Labor Relations Board (PELRB).  The teachers at Sununu Youth Services Center (SYSC) finally had their day in “court!”

Last year, the NH legislature mandated that $1.25 million be cut specifically from SYSC’s operating budget.  As a solution, the state, based on DHHS upper management’s advice, declared that the pay the SYSC teachers had been receiving since the early 1990’s would drastically be reduced as of June 30, 2013.

As we have previously reported, the pay level resulted from a lawsuit, known as the James O. case. The court decided at the time that the quality of education children were being provided at SYSC was substandard to that of the education the SYSC students would be receiving at a public school. In response, the state required additional certifications for the teachers, as well as instituted increased pay for the purpose of recruiting and retaining qualified teachers.

What was once known as a “revolving” door of teachers has since become an institution that has seen only one new teacher hire in the last three years and a staff that simply does not “turn over.” It is reasonable to assume that the students (the consumers) are receiving higher quality educations with a faculty that is uniquely trained to handle the special needs population.  Many of the students at SYSC would be in the criminal system if they were adults.

SEA/SEIU Local 1984 asserts that the teacher pay level has been in place for over 20 years; is a past practice; and is part of the teachers’ wages.  In fact, teacher positions have been posted and employment letters have been given to prospective employees that include the pay with no mention of it being temporary or special in any way! Not one of the six teachers who testified was aware that the pay level was not a permanent salary structure.  No one had ever told them in Human Resources or management that the pay could ever be taken away. The amount of potential pay in question lost is thousands of dollars for each teacher. Obviously they have made life choices and major purchases, such as homes, based on these wages and losing it will bring them hardship.

The state asserts that the pay level is not subject to the CBA, as it is a matter of management “prerogative.”

The fate of a qualified and committed teaching staff now lies in the hands of the three individuals who constitute the PELRB.  We will bring you further updates as the case progresses.

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