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Unions blast N.H. Senate president’s bill to expand public-employer power

Union officials turned out yesterday to blast a Senate bill that would give public employers the power to set standards for discipline, layoffs, transfers and the like – issues that can now be addressed through collective bargaining.

Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, told the Executive Departments and Administration Committee that his bill is intended to reinforce local control by ensuring, for example, that local school boards have the power to set standards for teacher evaluation.

But representatives from several unions testified at yesterday’s hearing that the bill changes the negotiating playing field by empowering public employers at the expense of workers.

“We see this as an attack on public employees in New Hampshire,” said Kurt Ehrenberg, political and legislative field director for the New Hampshire AFL-CIO.

Bragdon’s bill would carve out a broad category of policies that can be set unilaterally by public employers, including cities, towns and school districts: “the right to determine standards for evaluation, compensation, selection, layoff and retention, discipline, assignment and transfer, and other traditionally accepted managerial rights.”

Such a change “gives public employers broadly unrestricted rights to act in areas that have traditionally been bargained, and to that extent it guts much of collective bargaining and much of the collective-bargaining agreements that are in existence,” said James Allmendinger, staff attorney for NEA-New Hampshire, the state affiliate of the National Education Association teachers union.

Bragdon said he understands there are concerns about his bill, but believes they are over-hyped.

“I do not think the situation is as grave as has been portrayed,” Bragdon said.

He proposed stripping out the word “compensation” and the phrase “other traditionally accepted managerial rights,” saying that would make clear the bill isn’t an attack on wages.

And he told the panel that while the bill allows employers to set standards, “the actual process of all these things – discipline, layoffs and all that – that is still subject to negotiation.”

Bragdon’s bill got support yesterday from the New Hampshire School Boards Association, the New Hampshire Association of Counties and the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

“Anything that goes to make negotiations easier and codify managerial prerogative, we support,” said Betsy Miller, executive director of the county-government association.

The committee heard more than a half-hour of testimony but didn’t debate Bragdon’s bill, make changes to it or vote on it. The legislation will eventually go to the full Senate for a vote.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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