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State workers’ union files grievances on behalf of liquor employees and seeks back pay

  • People from the State Employees' Association (SEA) of New Hampshire picket outside the offices of the State Liquor Commission to protest what they claim is the Commission's unfair treatment of state liquor retail employees; December 6, 2012. According to SEA they were representing the employees because employees who have questioned the Commission's policies have either been fired or forced to work in locations far from their home. <br/>(SAMANTHA GOREH / Monitor Staff)

    People from the State Employees' Association (SEA) of New Hampshire picket outside the offices of the State Liquor Commission to protest what they claim is the Commission's unfair treatment of state liquor retail employees; December 6, 2012. According to SEA they were representing the employees because employees who have questioned the Commission's policies have either been fired or forced to work in locations far from their home.
    (SAMANTHA GOREH / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • A woman, that picketers from the State Employees' Association (SEA) of New Hampshire, identify as Cathy Thornton, a human resources employe for the State Liquor Commission takes a picture of them outside the offices of the State Liquor Commission to protest what SEA claims is the Commission's unfair treatment of state liquor retail employees; December 6, 2012. According to SEA they were representing the employees because employees who have questioned the Commission's policies have either been fired or forced to work in locations far from their homes. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GOREH / Monitor Staff)

    A woman, that picketers from the State Employees' Association (SEA) of New Hampshire, identify as Cathy Thornton, a human resources employe for the State Liquor Commission takes a picture of them outside the offices of the State Liquor Commission to protest what SEA claims is the Commission's unfair treatment of state liquor retail employees; December 6, 2012. According to SEA they were representing the employees because employees who have questioned the Commission's policies have either been fired or forced to work in locations far from their homes.

    (SAMANTHA GOREH / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • People from the State Employees' Association (SEA) of New Hampshire picket outside the offices of the State Liquor Commission to protest what they claim is the Commission's unfair treatment of state liquor retail employees; December 6, 2012. According to SEA they were representing the employees because employees who have questioned the Commission's policies have either been fired or forced to work in locations far from their home. <br/>(SAMANTHA GOREH / Monitor Staff)
  • A woman, that picketers from the State Employees' Association (SEA) of New Hampshire, identify as Cathy Thornton, a human resources employe for the State Liquor Commission takes a picture of them outside the offices of the State Liquor Commission to protest what SEA claims is the Commission's unfair treatment of state liquor retail employees; December 6, 2012. According to SEA they were representing the employees because employees who have questioned the Commission's policies have either been fired or forced to work in locations far from their homes. <br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GOREH / Monitor Staff)

The State Employees’ Association filed two unfair labor complaints against the state Liquor Commission yesterday, alleging the agency has illegally cut pay and benefits for part-time workers and harassed the union representatives trying to protect them.

The union wants the Liquor Commission to award back pay to nearly 1,200 part-time employees working in the state’s liquor stores. The complaints, filed with the Public Employee Labor Relations Board, also ask that the Liquor Commission be required to honor the union rights of part-time and full-time employees.

Diana Lacey, president of the state employees union, said the union filed the complaints because months of negotiations with the Liquor Commission and state personnel officials led nowhere.

“We have exhausted all informal resolutions,” she said.

According to the complaints, the Liquor Commission has cut the additional pay that part-time workers have long received for working Sundays and holidays, in violation of their contract. The complaints also allege the commission determined on its own, in violation of personnel rules and state law, that part-time employees are no longer covered under the union contract.

Meanwhile, Lacey said, the Liquor Commission has made more of its retail jobs part time in the last two years and now has six part-time employees for every full-time worker.

“While liquor store sales are skyrocketing, how appropriate is it for the state to be marginalizing the very workers who make these profits possible?” Lacey said yesterday at a press conference. “This is truly the Walmartization of the state.”

The state’s liquor stores are expected to ring up $600 million in sales this year, Lacey said.

These complaints are the latest in a series of problems at the Liquor Commission. A legislative study commission recently concluded an investigation of alleged lobbying violations and poor management at the commission and recommended that the three-person commission be replaced with a single commissioner and deputy.

Calls to the Liquor Commission were referred to Kelly Mathews, the agency’s human resources administrator. Mathews said she couldn’t comment on the union’s filings because she didn’t know the content of the complaints or that they were coming.

After announcing the complaints yesterday, union officials picketed outside the Liquor Commission headquarters on Storrs Street with signs calling attention to the pay dispute.

No liquor store employees attended either event, Lacey said, because they are afraid that identifying themselves publicly would jeopardize their jobs.

The two complaints filed yesterday describe the nature of the alleged contract violations but do not identify any of the part-time workers. One of the complaints does identify four union representatives who say they were harassed for advocating on behalf of employees.

According to one of the complaints, Mathews notified all commission employees this summer that the agency was not going to pay part-time workers additional pay for Sunday and holiday shifts. Full-time employees would continue receiving time-and-a-half for Sunday shifts and additional pay or a day off for holiday shifts.

The memo coincided with the commission’s decision to keep all retail stores open on Sundays in hopes of boosting sales, according to commission records.

During the negotiations that followed, the commission and state personnel officials argued that only full-time employees were covered under the union contract and eligible for additional pay on Sundays and holidays.

The union disagrees.

In the second complaint, the union alleged that four Liquor Commission employees were targeted for harassment and intimidation because as union representatives they had tried to protect employee rights:

∎ Cindy Sanborn was transferred from her job at the Glen liquor store to the Lincoln store after taking up a grievance for an employee, the complaint said. She also had her work emails read and was told she needed to “relax” and “stop working so much on union matters,” the complaint said.

After she objected, Sanborn was eventually returned to the Glen store and compensated for the additional mileage to the Lincoln store.

∎ Chris Russell, another union steward, received a bad performance review after negotiating on behalf of an employee who had filed a labor grievance, the complaint said. Until then, Russell had many years of positive work reviews.

∎ Steward Antony Parras was told that he had to work Sunday shifts if too few employees volunteered, the complaint said. After he missed two days of work due to an anxiety attack, the commission made it difficult for Parras to return to work even though he had a doctor’s note clearing him for duty, according to the complaint.

∎ Rich Gulla, a fourth steward who represents union members in grievances, was told to take a leave of absence after experiencing medical complications for an illness covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the complaint said. He applied for supplemental sick leave after exhausting his own sick time but was initially denied, the complaint said.

After he was granted the additional sick leave, the commission was slow to give Gulla payment for the time, the complaint said.

“The (union) avers that the actions taken against each of these named individuals . . . were attempts to restrain, coerce or otherwise interfere with these employees in the exercise of their rights,” the union complaint alleged.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

My first thought is that I am pleased to see that NH Liquor Commission actually being run as a business. I would be upset if the NH Liquor commission sacrificed profit and did not do what other businesses did when they negotiated with a union. They would have lost the public trust if they just gave the union what they wanted without regard to the public interest in making the commission profitable. Having said that, people are affected by this and there is a disagreement as to benefits for employees. This should be worked out and either in the courts or through negotiation and hopefully there will be resolution soon for the parties involved. Having said all that, I find it ironic that SEIU endorsed every Democrat for every state race and there is a disagreement with a commission that isn't affiliated with a party, but they do have to answer to the majority democrat controlled executive council and John Lynch/Maggie Hassan. For month prior to the election, if you drove by the headquarters on North Main street, it had more Democrat signs than the NH Democratic headquarters. It would seem that the SEIU just endorsing just democrats still doesn't guarantee state by in to their agenda.

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