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State, SEA at impasse in contract negotiations

Contract negotiations between the state and the State Employees’ Association are at an impasse, largely because the two sides disagree over when a new health care deductible should kick in, both sides said yesterday.

The parties are now looking for a mediator but negotiations promise to remain challenging; the proposed state contract is based on a two-year state budget already passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The proposed contract calls for the deductible, $500 for individuals and $750 for families, to start in January and increase to $1,000 for families in 2015. Union President Diana Lacey said state employees are not opposed to a deductible, but they want it pushed out a year so it doesn’t negate the contract’s initial proposed pay raises.

Lacey said under the timing proposed by the state, almost all state employees would initially see a pay cut even after receiving the first of three proposed raises because the amount of the raises would be smaller than the proposed deductibles.

The first 1.5 percent pay raise is scheduled to appear in August paychecks, but it would add less than $500 to most employees’ pay by the time they had to start paying $500 or $750 deductibles, according to the union. Only state workers in the top five of the state’s 35 labor grades would see an increase of more than $500 by the January start of the deductible, according to union calculations.

Matt Newland, manager of employee relations for the state, said in an email yesterday that the state remains “committed to working in good faith to reach a contract agreement that is fair for employees and the taxpayers of New Hampshire.”

But Newland also noted that the Legislature has set limits to what state negotiators can do by passing a budget that assumes certain savings by introducing a deductible and a particular timeline for additional expenses of raises. Those savings and expenses are part of the proposed contract that union officials tentatively agreed to when the budget was being written, he said.

“The state budget has been finalized, and we will need to work within the constraints of the funding provided by the legislature,” Newland said.

The proposed state contract would give state employees a 6 percent pay raise spread out over two years. After the first raise appeared in August paychecks, the next would come a year later, in August 2014, followed by a third in February 2015.

State employees have never had a deductible for health care costs, although they have taken on additional health care expenses over the last few years, Lacey said. They pay a premium with each paycheck – $60 for a family – and have accepted higher co-pays for visits to doctors and specialists.

Lacey said those changes, a reduction to their pensions and delayed cost-of-living raises amounted to a pay cut for employees over the last two years. She estimated the savings to the state at $100 million.

Under the proposed contract, employees would not start to “get ahead” again until the last pay raise in 2015 because the deductibles would largely negate the two raises before that one.

Lacey said she believes the state can change the timing of the deductible and raises while staying within the state budget. There are other reasons to delay the deductible, she said.

In June, state negotiators reached tentative agreements on a two-year contract with negotiators for the four unions that represent state employees: the State Employees’ Association, the New Hampshire State Troopers Association, the New Hampshire State Police Benevolent Association and the Teamsters. The SEA is by far the largest union of the four.

Since then, members of the Teamsters and the New England State Police Benevolent Association have ratified the contract. Those unions represent the Fish and Game Department, the Department of Corrections, and the Liquor Commission law enforcement division.

The Troopers Association, like the SEA, is still negotiating.

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

Legacy Comments3

The proposed deductibles are too high. If I were still in SEIU 1984, I'd vote against it as well. There has been reluctance on the part of the state to furnish actual statistics on the health care it provides employees. It's hard to sell the need for such a change when the figures are arbitrary and even fluid. During my employment, we went from no payment for health care to $25 each pay period (biweekly) to $30. Now it seems it is $60. NH, drop those deductibles to $150 per person and $300 for families.

Anyone who works for a living in New Hampshire should welcome a mediator to the talks between the union of state employees and the state's bargaining team. Austerity has not served us well, and both union and non-union workers have seen wage stagnation and deterioration of benefits through these long-lasting hard times. When union members use the power of democracy in the workplace, we make life better for our own families and create the economic pressures that improve life for everyone who draws a paycheck. In this case, making state employment more attractive is directly linked to the quality of public services. I am proud to be part of the movement. John Corrigan

Unions - are insignificant and a drag on American prosperity......just look at the amazing success Wisconsin has created when they made union membership voluntary

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