SEA leaders endorse tentative contract that includes pay raises, health insurance deductibles
State Employees’ Association members will soon vote on a new contract that offers thousands of state workers their first across-the-board raises since January 2009 while instituting a first-ever deductible for their health insurance.
Negotiations between the state and the SEA have been deadlocked for months. But late last week, both sides said progress was being made, and last night the union’s Collective Bargaining Senate endorsed a two-year contract on a voice vote.
The tentative agreement, which is broadly similar to a deal rejected by the same Senate in June, now goes to the SEA’s members for ratification. Jim Nall, chairman of the union’s master bargaining team, said ballots will hopefully be mailed out by the end of the week.
“This has been a long process – longer than what either side would have wanted. . . . In the end, after five years without a raise, I think we have arrived at a proposal that is fair and will allow the state employees to continue to provide critical services for New Hampshire residents, while supporting their own families, too,” said Diana Lacey, president of the SEA, in a statement.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, thanked negotiators on both sides for their work since the talks began in January.
“This is a fair agreement for both employees and taxpayers that will provide the first cost-of-living raises for employees in five years and provide important health care savings to the state,” Hassan said in a statement last night.
Back in June, the state announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the union on a new two-year contract. But the SEA’s bargaining Senate rejected the deal on a 56-48 vote, sending negotiators back to the table.
Those talks stalled, and four days of mediation failed to break the deadlock. The union and the state prepared for fact-finding, a process that involves presenting information to a neutral third party, but called off a scheduled session last week when they began to make progress on their own.
Last night, the Senate met for nearly an hour and a half and endorsed the tentative contract on a voice vote; “It wasn’t close,” said Peter Brunette, president of the SEA’s Chapter 41, which represents Seacoast-area employees.
The deal rejected by union leaders in June offered employees their first across-the-board raises since January 2009: 1.5 percent this year, 2.25 percent in July 2014 and 2.25 percent on Jan. 1, 2015.
It also made changes to health coverage, including a new insurance deductible of $500 for an individual and $750 for a family, with the family deductible rising to $1,000 in 2015.
“Employees really actually need the raise to pay their bills. They need a raise that they can use that way, and not have to use for more health care costs,” Lacey said in mid-September.
The deal tentatively approved last night includes the same increases in pay. Nall said the initial raise won’t be retroactive to July 1, but members instead would receive a $300 lump-sum payment.
The new deal also includes the same deductibles. But, Nall and Lacey said, money was moved around and changes were made to lessen the potential financial impact on employees.
“There are mitigating factors here that will help people when they are going to be exposed to the deductibles,” Nall said. “The last one was a major loss to our employees.”
Next, the tentative contract goes to members for an up-or-down vote.
“I wouldn’t presume to speak for the membership, but I think that all state employees benefit from this, whether they’re represented by SEA or not,” Brunette said. “I think it’s in their interest to ratify it.”
More than 7,800 state employees represented by the SEA have been working without a contract since the end of June. Three smaller unions representing state workers – the New England Police Benevolent Association, the Teamsters and the New Hampshire Troopers Association – have all ratified new contracts.
(CORRECTED, Oct. 30: An earlier version of this article misspelled Peter Brunette’s name.)
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or email@example.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)