The House and Senate will each meet in session at 10 a.m. Thursday, and will convene in a Joint Session at noon to hear Gov. Chris Sununu’s first budget address.
You may have noticed that some bills are coming up rather quickly — for example, the two retiree health care bills heard last week. This is happening due to deadlines for bills that have to go to a second committee. Using the retiree health care bills as an example, because the bills have an expense attached (known as a fiscal note), they must go through both the original committee (in this case, Executive Departments and Administration) and the Finance Committee. That means each bill must be approved twice by the House. So while it seems like bills are being rushed through, there is still time to take action.
Very importantly, the House Labor Committee will be holding hearings (and possibly executive sessions) on the so-called right to work bills — SB 11 and HB 520 — on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Representatives’ Hall in the State House; we’ll have more on those below. The other key hearing is for SB 215, a bill we’ve put forward that’s sponsored by Sen. Dan Feltes that would permit the Community College System to return to the state employee health insurance plans. The hearing for SB 215 is Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 10:20 a.m., in Room 101 of the Legislative Office Building.
Here are the full calendars for each chamber below:
Representative Neal Kurk of Weare introduced two bills in the New Hampshire House that, if passed, would destroy retiree health insurance protection.
HB 653 would institute a minimum of 12.5 percent health insurance premium contribution from over-65 and Medicare-eligible retirees, instating a tax on our retirees.
HB 645 would end retiree health insurance for any state employee hired after July 1, 2017, and puts ALL RETIREES IN THE STATE, present and future, into a voucher-style system, which rather than providing a defined insurance benefit, provides a set amount of money with which to buy insurance on the open market.
Read these bills here:
Both these bills are imminent threats to all State of NH employees. You must act! Contact your representative and tell them to VOTE NO on these bills.
The State of New Hampshire must live up to the obligations it has made to public sector workers. After dedicating years of public service, workers hope to retire with dignity and have the assurances made to them remain intact. Many spend years carefully planning their retirement around promises made to them when they began work. Instituting a premium contribution on our senior citizens will have a cruel impact – many will easily wind up spending their retirement years living in poverty.
The State of New Hampshire is grappling with recruiting and retaining a high-quality workforce across all segments of state service. The classification system is antiquated and ineffective, with many jobs lagging so far behind the pay scale some vacancies remain open for months. Reducing retirement benefits will only serve to increase the recruitment and retention gap that exists.
Finally, it is outrageous the supporters of these bills will force current and future retirees into poverty and reduce the state’s ability to attract quality candidates, so they can turn around and provide tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. Giving tax breaks at the expense of seniors who dedicated their lives to public service is immoral and absolutely unacceptable.
Take action today.
If you are a nonmember, consider joining the SEA today. Because retirement benefits are not part of our collective bargaining agreement, we are prohibited from using agency fee funds to advocate for these benefits. The fight to protect retirement benefits is borne solely by members.
Please join today and add your voice to our growing chorus calling for the state to live up to the promises made to us.
If you know a non-member, share this message. Persuade them to join us in this fight.
Click here to contribute to SEAPAC: SEAPAC is our voluntary political-action fund that provides resources to protect your retirement benefits. A few dollars a week can make all the difference.
The House Labor Committee is holding a hearing for both so-called right to work bills — SB 11 and HB 520 — on Wednesday, Feb. 8, starting at 10 a.m. We need to send a message of solidarity by packing Representatives’ Hall at 10 a.m. as the hearings begin. Even if you can’t stay for the entire hearing, we need to make sure everyone is signing their name in opposition to both bills.
Shuttles running to State House: Parking around the State House can be a challenge on hearing days, so we’re running shuttles from the State Office Park East on Hazen Drive as well as the State Office Park South (NH Hospital campus). If you plan on taking the shuttle, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. The shuttle routes look like this:
Other ways to take action: Here are the other actions you can take to help defeat these bills:
The House held hearings for several bills we’re tracking last week including one that would drastically shrink the size of the Sununu Youth Services Center. Others include one to provide certain Department of Transportation workers with hazardous duty pay and one that would put certain Department of Corrections workers into Group II. In all cases, we had great testimony from members. As always, we thank the members that came to the hearings and testified.
SYSC bill (HB 646): The hearing, held last Tuesday, was lengthy and included testimony from several members. The most damning testimony for the bill may have come from a longtime supporter of SYSC, who was actually testifying in favor of the bill. Former Sen. David Boutin enumerated many potential problems with the legislation, as it was written. There is an executive session for this bill on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 1 p.m. in Room 206 of the Legislative Office Building. Please call the members of the Children and Family Law Committee and ask them to reject this bill. You can find their information here.
DOT bill (HB 426): This bill would provide hazardous duty pay to DOT employees working in harms’ way on our roads and bridges. We had strong testimony from members include Chapter 17 President Dan Brennan. There is no executive session scheduled yet, but you can start reaching out to the Public Works Committee to ask them to approve this bill. You can find their information here.
DOC bill (HB 593): This bill would correct in injustice, moving DOC employees who meet the criteria for Group II retirement into Group II (they are in Group I currently.) As with the DOT bill, there is no executive session set for this bill yet. We’d like all members to begin reaching out to the members of the Executive Departments and Administration Committee right away, though. You can find their information here.
Today, members of the Executive Branch will see a little more money in their pockets. Their pay checks will include a 2% raise that was negotiated by their Master Bargaining Team in the 2015-2017 contract. While there are many things you could do with extra cash, like pay some bills, take a vacation or finally buy that new car (or new to you car), it is a very good idea to save some of it.
People who begin putting aside just a few dollars a pay period reap the benefits when it comes time to retire. To that end, members of the Executive Branch and Judicial Branch have the opportunity to make tax deferred contributions through their own deferred compensation plan.
The State of NH Deferred Compensation Plan urges you to put your pay raise to work, so maybe you don’t have to later. “While full time state employees contribute to a pension and many have access to Social Security, those two sources may not provide enough retirement income, especially given the rising costs retirees face for their health benefits. Saving even small amounts now, every paycheck, will help you meet these increasing costs in the future,” said Craig Downing, Chapter 20 and Executive Director of the NH Deferred Compensation Plan.
On Wednesday, the House Executive Departments and Administration (ED&A) Committee held hearings on a pair of bills that target health care for retired state employees, HB 653 and HB 645. The impact of the bills would be massive, affecting current retirees, those who have yet to retire, and those who’ve yet to start working for the state.
The first bill, HB 653, would require any Medicare-eligible state retirees to begin paying at least a 12.5 percent monthly premium — right now that would equate to $47 per person. The key words are at least, because that 12.5 percent is described as a minimum. The second bill, HB 645, would essentially eliminate the state retiree health benefit as it exists, instead giving retirees money to go out onto the open market to buy insurance. HB 653 would also eliminate the retiree health benefit for anyone starting work with the state after July 1 of this year.
Testimony ran the gamut, with many sharing their personal perspective and others pointedly telling lawmakers that cutting isn’t the only option — they can and should find new revenue sources. Chapter 1 member Mary Hillier was among those who testified in opposition to HB 653, and she made a fiscal argument. She said that while she could handle the added expense of a premium, at some point that change will impact her community.
“Our economy is hugely dependent on small businesses, and if I have to cut my spending, it’s going to be felt in at least a small way at the local store,” she said. “But when you magnify that by the others forced to make the same decision, the impact becomes significant.”
Hillier said active employees need to be aware of the massive impact these bills would have on them when it comes time for them to retire.
“If you’re an active employee, the language in HB 645 should absolutely scare you,” Hillier said.
There were many active employees in attendance on Wednesday, though many were there on their lunch hour and unable to stay.
Jane Vachon, a member of Chapter 47, was one of the active employees who was able to testify on Wednesday.
“I was there because our benefits package is so important to our quality of life,” Vachon said. “That’s part of what attracted people to state service. We’re here because we’re dedicated to the work we do, first and foremost, but we all have to live.”
In her testimony, Vachon noted that many state employee pensions are not very large, so cutting into the benefits would have a great impact.
“The average pension for state employees is around $13,000,” Vachon said. “That 12 percent could put a lot of retired state workers in a very difficult situation.”
She said as a current state employee, it’s demoralizing to see the state trying to cut benefits that many have long seen as a given. Worse, she said, cutting these benefits hurts the state’s ability to attract new employees in a very competitive job market.
“When you’re chipping away at these benefits, you’re crippling the state’s ability to attract the kind of talent that you need,” she said.
“State workers are the engine that runs New Hampshire,” Vachon said, “checking your wells for PCBs, monitoring for Zika. This is part of what gives New Hampshire its quality of life. That’s what’s at risk here when you start trying to save pennies by chipping away at a benefit that people had planned on.”
We’re thankful for all of the state employees who turned out, especially those who testified or submitted testimony, but we need you all to take the next step and contact the members of the ED&A Committee. You can find phone numbers for all committee members here: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/committeedetails.aspx?code=H07.
I’m writing today to let you know that I hear you, and I want to hear you a little better. What I mean is that we’ve heard from you over the years that we need to improve the way we communicate with members. There are a lot of ways to do that, but we want to focus on ways that encourage more two-way communications, with a bigger emphasis on social media.
I started this process by kick-starting our Communications Committee, which has long been dormant. We met last week with a couple of members and made one easy decision: starting today, we’re cutting back on our SEA News emails to twice a month. Instead of every Thursday, look for the SEA News on the first and third Thursday of every month.
For a lot of years, email has been the best way we can reach members, and we’re not ditching it altogether. At convention and council meetings, we heard from members that we send too many messages. We plan to make better use of targeted emails and social media, while also using tools we’ve never used before, like text messaging. I’ve also begun putting out more messages via video. However, SEA News emails will still be part of the mix.
While you’re at your computer or on your phone, I’d like to ask you to do two things:
This is all a work in progress, so there may be some bumps in the road. We appreciate your patience and participation as we work to improve the way we communicate. Finally, if you have an interest in helping improve our communications, please send me an email at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
Deadline for Chapter Elections is Next Friday, Feb. 10
The deadline to self-nominate for SEA chapter leadership positions is coming up next Friday, Feb. 10. We often get questions about what chapter leadership roles entail, so with the deadline approaching, we wanted to provide a bit of information on each one.
Tammy Clark, the SEA’s Second Vice President and chair of the Organizing Committee, has served in just about every chapter role available. She said getting involved at that level allows you to make an impact at the place you spend most of your waking hours: your workplace.
“To be effective as a union, we need members that are engaged, and that doesn’t happen without good two-way communication,” Clark said. “Our chapter leaders are what make that two-way communication between front-line workers and the SEA’s council and board of directors possible. Taking on chapter leadership roles gives you a chance to make real change in your workplace.”
Here is a brief description of the chapter leadership roles:
Chapter President: Presides over chapter meetings and affairs of the chapter. Recommends appointments of stewards to the union president. Chapter presidents also represent members at council meetings and conventions.
Chapter Vice President: Fills in for the president in the event of illness or incapacitation. Assumes the duties of the Treasurer in the absence or disability of the Treasurer.
Chapter Treasurer: Responsible for the chapter’s financial recordkeeping.
Chapter Secretary: Keeps the records of all official proceedings.
Chapter Councilor: Represents chapter members at council meetings and the convention. Elected by chapter members at a ratio of one councilor for every 20 members. Councilors are vital to representing the interests and concerns of chapter members within their chapter and the union as a whole. They also bring information back to members in their worksites from both the chapter and the larger union.
Alternate Councilor: Represents chapter members at council meetings and the convention when a councilor is unavailable.
You can find the self nomination form for chapter elections here: http://www.seiu1984.org/files/2016/11/SEA-election-notice-and-nominating-form.pdf. If you have any questions about running chapter leadership, you can send an email to Tammy Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Runners from State Agencies Again Compete to See Which Agency is Fastest
Lace up your running shoes and get moving: the 24th running of the SEA 5K Road Race and Fitness Walk is just over two months away, set for April 1.
The SEA 5K covers a fast and flat course through the State Office park East on Hazen Drive in Concord and is the second race in the Capital Area Race Series (CARS). Because the race is part of the series, you can sign up for the entire series or just for this one race. You can read more about the CARS series here.
SEA 5K race director Jennifer Day said it’s a great, family-friendly race that draws top runners and casual walkers alike.
“The great thing about the SEA 5K is that whether you’re winning in record time or walking across the finish line with your whole family, everyone is welcome,” Day said. “Because this is a smaller race, it maintains a very welcoming feel.”
Part of the reason for that welcoming feel is that the race is a fundraiser for Operation Santa Claus, which, like the SEA 5K, is organized and operated by members of SEA/SEIU Local 1984. Every year, thanks to the generosity of Granite Staters, Operation Santa Claus is able to provide gifts for families in need all over the state. Day said that many of the volunteers for Operation Santa Claus are there to help out on race day, as well.
“They’re dedicated to helping the children any way they can, and because this race supports their mission, they’ve always been a big part of it,” Day said. “We love to have them here and we wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
The race falls toward the beginning of the running season for many, when people are finally able to hop off their treadmills and head outside to walk or run. Day said whether you’re a regular runner or just getting started, the SEA 5K is a good race to begin the season with.
“The weather that time of year can be tricky, but it helps that the course itself isn’t especially challenging,” Day said. “Since this comes at the beginning of race season, it’s a great motivator to get out and get moving.”
As is the custom with the race, there is a team competition for state agencies. Last year, the runners from the Department of Health and Human Services broke the stranglehold long held by the runners from the Department of Environmental Services. Will DES reclaim its crown this year or will another agency take the win? We’ll find out on April 1.
You can sign up for the SEA 5K Road Race and Fitness Walk at www.runreg.com/sea-5k.
SEA/SEIU Local 1984 Team Preparing Counter-Proposals
The Executive Branch collective bargaining process is now well under way, as the state’s negotiating team has begun responding to proposals from all of the unions that represent state employees.
Jim Nall, the chair of the SEA/SEIU Local 1984 Master Bargaining Team, said the bargaining process is fluid but that some early themes have started to develop.
“The state’s team has expressed repeatedly that there is no surplus of funds,” Nall said. “It’s clear that the state’s team has priorities, and has indicated there are several concerns they feel must be addressed in the new contract. It’s early in the process right now, so we’ll have to wait to see what is offered as compensation for any concessions that the state may ask for.”
The bargaining team is keenly aware, Nall said, of the many issues related to the state’s difficulty in recruiting and retaining workers.
“People are consistently being asked to do a lot more with a lot less,” he said. “We’re attempting to address some of that through the collective bargaining agreement.”
Nall said the bargaining process will continue with the SEA/SEIU Local 1984 team preparing counter-proposals to the state’s responses.
“We plan to meet with the state’s team again Tuesday to continue to work toward finding solutions that meet their needs while recognizing the challenges that state employees are facing on a daily basis,” Nall said.
The bargaining process, like any at the union, requires lots of member involvement. While many responded to the survey that helped establish bargaining priorities, there are other ways to help. Nall said members’ involvement needs to go beyond bargaining, as things happening at the Legislature could have a massive impact.
“Our membership can’t sit idly by and watch the negative actions that are affecting our workforce,” Nall said. “Whether it’s right to work, or the proposal that would prevent unions from collecting dues through payroll deduction — these bills would have no lasting benefit to our employees and, worse, they’ll cause them harm.”
Nall encouraged his fellow SEA/SEIU Local 1984 members to get active and make their voices heard. An easy way to be involved is through the Collective Bargaining Advisory Committee or the Contract Action Team (CAT).
“While I have a bargaining team of 14 people standing behind me at the negotiating table, there are 10,000 state employees out there,” he said. “Each and every one of them needs to make it clear that they expect to be treated with respect as hard-working employees of the state of New Hampshire.”
Change Acknowledges Risk Road Crews Face Every Day
Every day out on the roads, whether in vehicles or on foot, Department of Transportation workers face potentially life-threatening situations when out on the roads helping keep them safe and passable. Say nothing about bad weather — a driver reaching for a phone or who’s fallen asleep could have disastrous consequences.
Accidents happen all too frequently for often defenseless road workers. That’s the rationale behind a bill that would issue hazardous duty pay to certain DOT workers, according to Chapter 17 President Dan Brennan. The first hearing for that bill is set for next week.
“DOT workers are sitting ducks out there at times,” Brennan said. “Our cones don’t stop anything, and we have no offensive means of protecting ourselves. Anything we do is defensively precautionary. We can set up all the road signs and arrow boards we want, but at the end of the day, there’s little we can do to make it safer.”
HB 426, which is sponsored by Chapter 1 member and Rep. Alan Turcotte, doesn’t lessen the danger the workers face, but offers some compensation to acknowledge it. The bill, as written, would pay workers whose “primary job responsibilities involve maintenance or construction on state highways, roads, and bridges in the normal course of their duties” $20 a week in hazardous duty pay.
Brennan, who worked for eight years as a firefighter in Long Island, said DOT workers who put themselves at risk to help the public deserve the same respect as police officers and firefighters.
“Like them, we took the job knowing that it can be dangerous,” Brennan said. “We hope the Legislature will show that they understand the risks in what we do and recognize that by approving this bill.”
The hearing for HB 426 is set for 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, in Room 201 of the Legislative Office Building. Brennan is organizing turnout through his chapter, but given the potential for bad weather pulling workers away, members are encouraged to stop by the hearing and sign your name in support of the bill.
Members of SEA/SEIU Local 1984 and their family are eligible for several higher education scholarships, two of which are funded by SEA/SEIU Local 1984 and administered by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Another scholarship is available through Union Plus, and the deadline for this one is fast approaching. In other words, if you haven’t applied yet, you should do so quickly. Here’s how:
Union Plus: Deadline is noon on Jan. 31. One-time cash awards range from $500 to $4,000 for the fall 2017 semester. Students can reapply each year. You can complete your application here.
SEA/SEIU Local 1984 scholarships: These scholarships – the Joan Dolloff Scholarship Fund and the State Employees of NH, Inc. Scholarship Fund – are administered by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. That means you can apply for both of them, along with any other scholarships you might qualify for, at one time. The Charitable Foundation application asks a range of questions to determine eligibility for various scholarships. Deadlines vary depending on the type of student, but regardless of that, the Charitable Foundation recommends applying immediately. You can complete your application here. If you have questions, call the Charitable Foundation at 225-6641.