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What exactly is the PELRB?

Editor’s note: As the PELRB prepares to handle the SEA’s unfair labor practice complaint over collective bargaining, we thought it would be helpful to explain exactly what the board does and where it came from.

For public employees, the PELRB — short for Public Employee Labor Relations Board — is one of the most essential governmental entities. The PELRB essentially facilitates the relationship in collective bargaining between public employees and public employers.  

The PELRB will hear and decide the current dispute between the SEA and the state over collective bargaining, but there’s a whole lot more the PELRB oversees as the neutral party. Here’s a quick overview.

The PELRB is defined in RSA 273-A, the same law that spells out most rules relating to public employees and organized labor. The SEA played a significant role in the development of that law in 1975, after years of agitating for collective bargaining rights. The law was, and is, a huge deal because it spelled out the right for public employees to organize and collectively bargain, and also required public employees and employers to bargain in good faith.

The board has five members and two alternates, with two representing management and two representing labor. All are appointed by the Governor and Council. Here are a few of the board’s key functions:

  • Bargaining unit certification, modification, and decertification petitions
  • Unfair labor practice complaints
  • Requests for appointment of mediators, fact-finders, and arbitrators
  • Collecting and maintaining collective bargaining agreements

The PELRB website is a massively helpful resource, which includes links to all decisions made by the board, collective bargaining agreements, and links to all relevant laws. If you’re at all interested in labor law or collective bargaining, it’s a site worth bookmarking and exploring. You can access the PELRB website here.

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The beginnings of bargaining rights

How a teachers’ strike led to NH’s collective bargaining law

In the early 1970s, public employees in New Hampshire didn’t have a lot of rights when it came to collective bargaining. They could, however, strike. Things reached a crisis point when, in 1974, teachers from the Timberlane School District went on the longest public employee strike in history.

Something needed to be done to instill order into the system of public employee collective bargaining.

“The legislature understood we needed to act and stop squabbling,” said attorney Dick Molan, who at the time was on the staff at the SEA. “The speaker of the House established a committee. They rented an office and put all of us in there — management and labor — and told us to hammer out a system.”

After about two weeks of give and take, the group emerged with what would become RSA 273-A, the Public Employee Labor Relations Act. The proposed law would outlaw strikes, but compel public employers and employees to bargain in good faith. In short, it provided balance to an unbalanced system.

Executive order

While the SEA’s history dates back to the early 1940s, the idea of collective bargaining for public employees didn’t gain steam until President Kennedy issued an executive order allowing federal employees to bargain.

“After that, a wave spread across the country — mostly in northern states — to allow public employees to bargain,” Molan said.

New Hampshire actually had a provision going back to the 1950s that gave towns and cities the ability to collectively bargain if they chose to do so. The first contracts started to appear around 1953 in Manchester’s public works department. The movement caught fire with state employees in the late 1960s, Molan said.

“The SEA was able to push through a law in 1969 that allowed employees to bargain over everything except wages and benefits,” Molan said. “So you could talk about the color of the walls” but not those important financial issues.

In the early 1970s, different labor unions in New Hampshire all offered up drafts of laws that were aimed to closely mirror the National Labor Relations Act. None got much traction until the turning point — the Timberlane strike. The work stoppage wasn’t just a big deal here, it made national news on the pages of the New York Times.

‘The pressure was there’

Then-Gov. Meldrim Thomson wanted a resolution, and asked Molan and the commissioner of the Department of Labor to mediate. The teachers said yes, but the school district said no. Needless to say, the governor wasn’t happy.

“We had a very direct order from the speaker of the House, who said ‘you are going to come up with a bill,’” Molan said. “The pressure was there and no one was going to resist it.”

The law had mutual benefits. It put an end to public employee strikes that could prove debilitating to employers, but it also established a system in which labor and management were compelled to negotiate in good faith. The law also created the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB), which plays a key role in the relationship between labor and management.

‘Things have changed’

The bill that created RSA 273-A was eventually approved and took effect in December 1975. That such a complicated and far-reaching bill came together so quickly and in such a bipartisan fashion might seem foreign in today’s political environment.

“Things have changed so much,” Molan said. “Back then, people actually did sit down together.”

Molan reminisced about Concord’s old Highway Hotel, which burned down nearly 30 years ago.

“The hotel used to give legislators a great deal on rooms,” he said. “Most stayed over Tuesday and Wednesday night. Everybody knew one another. Lobbyists were expected to have hospitality suites one of the two nights. The result was that you really got to know people on a personal level, and lawmakers got to know each other on a personal level. That made all the difference.”

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Senate approves CCSNH health care bill

On Thursday, the Senate approved SB 215, a bill that would allow CCSNH to re-enter the state health plan. The bill is only enabling legislation, meaning that it would allow the state and CCSNH to consider the change.

The change would likely be very good for CCSNH — which has struggled with increasing health care costs — and its employees. Despite this obvious benefit, there was still some opposition. After the bill was initially passed by the Senate, it was sent back to the Finance Committee where it received a recommendation of “inexpedient to legislate.” That’s where you came in.

Members reached out to senators with phone calls and emails over a period of a few weeks. When the bill came up for a vote on Thursday, the Senate first needed to overturn the committee’s recommendation, which it did. Then, by a bipartisan vote of 11-10, the Senate approved SB 215 and sent it on to the House.

Thank you to all of the members — at CCSNH and elsewhere — who made phone calls and sent emails to help get this bill passed. We should also thank the senators who supported the bill: all Democrats (with the exception of Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, who was excused) and Sens. Andy Sanborn, Dan Innis and William Gannon.

We’ll have an update once the bill is introduced in the House.

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Retiree health care, SYSC at risk in budget

Actions you can take as House prepares to vote on budget

Last Tuesday, the House Finance Committee approved the budget (HB 1) and the so-called budget trailer bill (HB 2). With the bill now set to move on to the full House for a vote, there are two key areas of concern: plans for the Sununu Youth Services Center (SYSC) and changes to retiree health care.

One issue with the budget process is that it’s fluid, meaning things can change. After the House approves the budget, it moves on to the Senate, which has the benefit of updated revenue projections. That could mean more — or less — money to work with. Regardless, we’re going to go a bit into detail on each proposed change, and the action you can take right now.

“Now’s the time to stand up and advocate for yourself and your peers,” said Karen Crowley, a registered nurse at SYSC and president of Chapter 21. “Everybody needs to come together as one and start fighting for the things we’re losing. We didn’t vote for losing our retirement or losing our jobs. We need to get together and talk to our lawmakers about it.”

Retiree health care

What’s proposed: Medicare-eligible state retirees, born on or after Jan. 1, 1949, would have to pay at least a 10 percent premium for health insurance. Anyone born before Jan. 1, 1949 would be “grandfathered in” and not subject to paying the premium.

Retirees under 65 and not yet Medicare-eligible would see their health insurance premium increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent.

Take action: This proposal is actually an improvement over the original, but we need to do better for our retirees (if you’re a state employee, that means you). Call your representatives right now, especially if you’re already retired, and tell them how this change would affect you. You can find their information by entering your information here.

Sununu Youth Services Center

What’s proposed: Cut the number of beds at SYSC from 144 to 36. Job cuts at SYSC would be enormous: 45 positions would be eliminated. With the reduction in beds, juveniles would have to be placed in smaller facilities.

Take action: First, you can call your representatives, as the House will vote on the budget next week. You can find their information by entering your information here. Lawmakers shouldn’t assume they know what’s best for the juveniles detained at SYSC. We’re also working with chapter presidents to set up remote phone banks to oppose this plan. If you’re interested, you can contact your chapter president.

Stay tuned for political updates

Do you receive our weekly political email newsletter? It includes updates on political issues we’re tracking along with ways you can take action. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

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Update: SEA files ULP against state

On March 24, SEA/SEIU Local 1984 filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the state and Gov. Chris Sununu related to collective bargaining.

Our goal is simply this: to get the state to return to the bargaining table.

SEA President Rich Gulla made just that case in a video message to membership:

After our filing with the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB), Gov. Sununu’s office attempted to portray the dispute as one between unions, but that’s not the case.

“I said this last week and I’ll say it again: the position the state is taking is unprecedented,” said SEA President Rich Gulla. “We’ve never before been forced to go to impasse, and we don’t intend to do so now. We believe we should be able to sit down with the state and reach an agreement that is best for the state and its dedicated employees. We’re not ready to throw up our hands and declare impasse.”

Gov. Sununu’s team has until April 10 to formally file a response with the PELRB. The PELRB has scheduled a prehearing conference for April 21 and an adjudicatory hearing for May 11. The process will take a while to play out, so the hope is that the governor’s team changes its position and comes back to the table.

We’ll continue to provide updates on the process as it unfolds. You can see our complete press release and access a copy of the unfair labor practice complaint here.

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House committee set to vote on budget

Amendment lessens impact on older retired state employees

The House budget process continues on this week, with the Finance Committee set to vote on both the budget (HB 1) and the so-called trailer bill (HB 2). An area of concern in Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget was his proposal to jack up health care costs for Medicare-eligible retirees, some of whom have been retired for decades.

The Finance Committee last week made a change that would grandfather anyone born before Jan. 1, 1949 from having to pay a premium. The change isn’t all good, though. Any state retiree born on or after that date would have to pay at least a 10 percent premium on their health care; worse, those under 65 would see their premium increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent.

We’re pleased the House has taken a step in the right direction, but we have to do better and the hope is that with better revenue projections to work from, we can further negate the impact of these changes. Thank you to all of the retirees and active employees who have called and email representatives. Your efforts have made a difference. 

We’ll continue to keep you updated as the process continues.

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SEA/SEIU Local 1984 files unfair labor practice complaint

SEA/SEIU Local 1984 issued the following press release after filing an unfair labor practice complaint against the state of New Hampshire.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Andrew Toland, 271-3411, ext. 108

SEA/SEIU Local 1984 files unfair labor practice complaint

Union asking state to return to bargaining table

Concord, N.H. – March 24, 2017 – This morning, SEA/SEIU Local 1984 filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the state of New Hampshire and Gov. Chris Sununu with the N.H. Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB). The SEA is asking the state to return to the bargaining table and continue negotiating a new contract on behalf of the state employees it represents.

Recently, a problem arose between the state, the SEA and the other unions who represent state employees during coalition bargaining. Two other unions felt they could not proceed and declared an impasse in negotiations. Despite this, the SEA did not declare impasse and sought to continue with contract talks. However, Gov. Sununu’s bargaining team asserted that because some union teams declared impasse, all the union teams must go to impasse. As a result, contract talks came to a complete halt during a critical time in the state’s budget process.

“It boils down to this fact: we’d like to continue negotiations on our next contract,” said SEA President Richard Gulla. “The position Gov. Sununu’s administration has taken is unprecedented. Our bargaining team is eager to return to negotiations to continue to fight for the rights of New Hampshire workers.”

“The SEA disagrees with the state team’s actions and sees their refusal to continue negotiations as a violation of the law. It is for this reason the SEA has filed the complaint with the labor board.”

###

You can see the complete unfair labor practice filing here

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Statement on death of Sen. Scott McGilvray

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Andrew Toland, 271-3411 ext. 108

SEA/SEIU Local 1984 statement on death of Sen. Scott McGilvray

SEA/SEIU Local 1984 President Rich Gulla issued the following statement on the passing of Sen. Scott McGilvray:

“On behalf of the State Employees’ Association, I extend my deepest condolences to Scott’s family, friends and colleagues at the NH NEA and NH State senate. Scott dedicated his career to public service and improving the lives of working people as an educator, coach, labor leader and senator. Our community and our state has lost a great person. We share the sorrow of all of the labor community at his passing.”

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President’s message: What’s the plan?

When big storms hit, state employees left out in the cold

As New Englanders, we’re programmed to handle snow. However, every once in a while we get a  storm so bad, it seems as though the entire state has shut down. The entire state – with the exception of the state itself.

Rich Gulla

Rich Gulla

State offices do not frequently close for snowstorms, and last Tuesday was no exception. Things got so bad Tuesday afternoon the state even closed its liquor stores. Unfortunately, state offices were kept open, leaving hundreds of state employees spinning their tires as they dug out and slowly trekked the dangerous roads home.

In hindsight, it seems pretty obvious the state should have followed the lead of employers across New Hampshire, and closed for the day. What’s it worth to keep offices open if you’re putting lives at risk?

It’s understood there are many public employees who work in essential jobs – including nurses, corrections officers, law enforcement and plow drivers. We’re all thankful for those workers who dutifully keep our state running, regardless of weather conditions. However, I don’t think we’re making the jobs of state troopers and plow crews any easier by unnecessarily sending more cars out on the roads.

Last Tuesday, surrounding states either closed state offices early or never opened altogether. We received the same forecast they did – so what’s the difference? Why is New Hampshire willing to put their employees’ lives at risk?

We closed the offices at the SEA on Tuesday for a simple reason: we didn’t want to put our employees’ lives at risk. To those who’d say it’s not fair  state offices remained open while our office was closed, I’d say this: You’re right – it’s not fair, but we should be setting a positive example and leading the way.

The state needs a better plan for dealing with major weather events such as this. Allowing employees “liberal use of leave” is not a plan – it’s a copout. Tuesday’s storm was a glaring example of a problem in desperate need of a solution, and we’d be happy to sit down with the state to find one to suit all state employees.

Hopefully before the next whopper of a storm.  

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House Finance budget work week of March 20

Monday, March 20

FINANCE – DIVISION I, Room 212, LOB
10am – HB1 & HB 2 work session

FINANCE – DIVISION II, Room 209, LOB
10am – HB1 & HB 2 work session

FINANCE – DIVISION III, Rooms 210-211, LOB
10am – HB1 & HB 2 work session

Tuesday, March 21

FINANCE – DIVISION I, Room 212, LOB
10am – HB1 & HB 2 work session

FINANCE – DIVISION II, Room 209, LOB
10am – HB1 & HB 2 work session

FINANCE – DIVISION III, Rooms 210-211, LOB
10am – HB1 & HB 2 work session

Wednesday, March 22

FINANCE – DIVISION I, Room 212, LOB
10am – HB1 & HB2 work session

FINANCE – DIVISION II, Room 209, LOB
10am – HB1 & HB2 work session

FINANCE – DIVISION III, Rooms 210-211, LOB
10am – HB1 & HB2 work session

 

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