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Grant Bosse

Grant Bosse: Bargaining tilted toward unions

New Hampshire’s public sectors unions have tilted the bargaining table toward themselves, and who could blame them for wanting it that way? The union representing the bulk of state employees has rejected a contract that would have given workers a 6.4 percent raise over the next 18 months, confident that they can get a better deal.

Gov. Maggie Hassan broke the news of a pending contract agreement with state employees at the 11th hour of budget negotiations last month, using the labor deal as a gambit in her fight to get more money out of Senate Republicans. This marked a substantial shift from her predecessor. Gov. John Lynch repeatedly asked the Legislature to put language in the budget forcing him to cut labor costs, in order to strengthen his position with the unions. By contrast, Hassan fought to reduce the amount of labor savings in the current budget.

The deal Hassan brought to the budget talks included a 1.5 percent across-the-board raise for all state employees effective July 1, a 2.25 percent raise next July and a 2.5 percent raise on Jan. 1, 2015. In exchange for this 6.4 percent increase in salary, state workers would have to pay a deductible for health care costs, along with some changes to sick-time policies.

New Hampshire self-insures its health care benefits, which has helped hold down increases in health care costs over the past decade. But taxpayers are on the hook for almost every dollar, since employees pay no deductibles and nominal co-pays. This provides little incentive for workers to limit their consumption of medical services.

The State Employees’ Association won’t be voting on this contract, because the union get three chances to negotiate. The governor reached a tentative agreement with the SEA’s master bargaining team. But the deal was rejected by 56-48 by the union’s collective bargaining senate, which chose not to send it to the full membership for approval.

Taxpayers have to rely on the governor to make a good deal for them. The Legislature could, of course, decline to fund salaries and benefits agreed to under any contract, but that’s neither feasible nor likely. But unions get three chances to get the deal they want.

The House this year soundly rejected an attempt to give taxpayers another layer of protection from expensive contracts. Senate Bill 153 would have required the Legislative Fiscal Committee to approve any costs associated with new state labor agreements. Voters in every city and town get a chance to approve local contracts, either at town meeting or through their elected representatives. But at the state level, the governor has unilateral authority to both negotiate and approve labor deals.

Attempts to get rid of the “evergreen clause,” which keeps the current contract in effect even after it has expired, drew

unruly protests from unions. Letting contracts, and the annual raises including in them, expire would force them to the bargaining table. The evergreen clause lets them reject any deal unless it’s a better deal for them.

The New England Police Benevolent Association, which represents Department of Corrections probation and parole officers and their supervisors, Fish and Game conservation officers and supervisors, and Liquor Enforcement officers quickly approved the deal Hassan negotiated. The Teamsters Local 633, which represents corrections officers of corporal and below, also ratified the deal. The New Hampshire Troopers Association sent it back for further negotiation, like the SEA.

The Legislature included $17 million in the budget to fund Hassan’s agreement but would be forced to come up with more money if the SEA reduces deductibles or increases salaries. And you can bet the other three unions representing state employees will come back looking for the same concessions.

It’s important to note that the proposed contract includes the first cost-of-living increases in several years, but it would not be the only raises that state employees have received. In fact, the bulk of state workers get a raise almost every year.

The state increased the number of “steps” in its labor grades several years ago, giving workers more annual increases in the same job. Roughly a quarter of state employees are now in their top step, and unions did agree to forego step increases in 2011, but workers otherwise get annual raises.

None of this begrudges state employees negotiating for the best deal they can get. But the current system, tilted so favorably toward the unions, can hardly be called bargaining. The governor should tell the SEA that the current deal is the best they can expect from New Hampshire taxpayers this year.

(Grant Bosse is editor of New Hampshire Watchdog, an independent news site dedicated to New Hampshire public policy. He is a senior fellow at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.)

UPDATE: This column was updated on July 12, 2013, to correct a passage explaining the status of various state unions with regard to the proposed labor contract.

Legacy Comments19

Instead of begrudging the state employees their benefits and wages, we should be looking at ways to restore a strong manufacturing base--and with it good jobs at good wages--to this country. Perhaps we should be looking at the 1%ers, who have systemically co-opted and looted the country. Once, executive salaries were 40 times the average worker's, now they approach 400 times. Essentially, many have taken the money for outsourcing jobs and shipping factories overseas. By and large, the silence from the business sector has been deafening over the 3 decades they've been doing this--with the active collusion of both parties. It started with Carter, Reagan put the process into high gear, Clinton perpetuated it with NAFTA, and we've never been the same. The middle class that unions and manufacturing helped create is dissolving away. Finance and manufacturing have traded places as a % of GDP. Finance is largely a casino system--adding little of real value to our economy. We need a re-industrial policy that will restore manufacturing to its rightful place in our nation We need real immigration reform (that includes fines for employing illegals), tariff protection and support for our domestic industries--including the high tech and alternative energy sectors, penalties for currency manipulation, and a push for better working conditions for those who labor in sweat shops anywhere in the world.

It used to be that when a worker got a good deal and good benefits, others would want the same thing or better and there was a competition for the qualitifed worker. Now we seem to have the mentality that if a worker is getting a raw deal, then everyone else should be pushed down to that same level. Because these government workers negotiated a deal to maintain benefits over salary increases during the good years, they were smart and deserve to keep what was promised to them. I'm tired of hearing complaining from those who chose other options and now want others to suffer along with them during the down economy.

It's a race to the bottom, stage-managed by the power-elites of business and finance, who've co-opted the government to turn the economy into one that produces mainly non-union, service sector jobs at mostly lousy wages. The public sector is almost the last bastion of unions, and ALEC is coming hard and fast for them, as Wisconsin's right-wing financed Scott Walker demonstrated last year.

Wisconsin public service unions have experienced a severe 50% drop in membership following the enactment of new laws allowing workers to make a choice....and then Walker won re-election

Has nothing to do with anything, except the fact that we are in a bad economy. When that happens, we all have to make sacrifices. Unfortunately, many believe that if you are in a union, no sacrifices are required. Just ask the taxpayers to pay more right?

You can forget a strong manufacturing base, it will not happen is a service economy. To pay good wages and have good jobs you have to have strong skills. Outsourcing started under Clinton, a Democrat and I agree, too many jobs have been outsourced....period. But you need to look at the reasons. OSHA is good but is an agency with so many amendments and interpretations and thousands of rules that nearly everyone gets some sort of fine......often the regulations, written by politicians, make no sense because they have no expertise in what they are don't know what you are talking about when you say that part of immigration reform we need "fines for employing illegals"..... We have that, in fact, if you use two different color inks on an I-9 you can be fined up to $1000 for that. How does that make sense? If you hire an employee and they show you documents that are forged, the employer is responsible no matter how good those documents are.....they might looked perfect....yet the employee presenting them is seldom if ever deported. You want to arrest people for currency manipulation....yet you support Soros???? PS-what a company pays an executive is neither your business nor your concern. You can play the envy card all that you want and guess what? It is just an envy card.

I understand this guy is part of a think tank, but I would like to know how much of a raise they will receive after the $1000-$2000 deductible, $20-$30 per paycheck they pay now, new charge for dental and the additional 2% they have to "contribute" to retirement to cover the legislatures earlier attempt to make itself seem competent? Also, the nominal co-pay is $15-$20 per visit and that is just a regular visit. Going to a specialist is $30 per visit. It is time Mr. Bosse and all the other nay sayers realize that the "Cadillac" dental plan state employees get is more like a Pinto. If you should require a root canal that will take up all your benefits for the calendar year! Many local employers offer much better benefits and they do not have the buying power the state does. Just who is getting a raise (kickback) here?

I find this line of Bosse's comment rather amusing - " Letting contracts, and the annual raises including in them, expire would force them to the bargaining table. The evergreen clause lets them reject any deal unless it’s a better deal for them." Mr. Bosse knows better than this. In truth without the evergreen clause there would be no incentive to even bargain with employee's. This is a typical twisting of the "truth" to serve his purpose. To the person on the street it would seem ludicrous that someone would turn down a raise. The facts here are not as clear, the average worker would be getting a cut in pay greater than what their raise would be. I am curious as to how many of the anti State Employee group are the ones I hear complaining while they wait in lines at DMV, or wait for septic approvals and so on. So in conclusion Mr. Bosse is not interested in tilted bargaining as much as he is against any bargaining..

I wonder if you wouldn't have a different opinion if you had to get a real job.

only 47% of employed Americans have a full time job - nice of you to provide a segue to the dismal Obama doldrums economy

In Romney's famous video it was 47% were basically leaching off of 53% who were working. It was then clarified that the quoted 47% included those who worked and paid into the system but are now retired. Now you state that only 47% are working? With unemployment going down, I would think that number should be greater than 53% working and probably around 75% who are either paying or paid their share into the system. Are you sure you have your facts straight or are correct facts only meaning to people more conservative than you?

101,000,000 people currently participate in at least one of the 15 food programs offered by the agency, at a cost of $114 billion in fiscal year 2012. That means the number of Americans receiving food assistance has surpassed the number of full-time private sector workers in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 97,180,000 full-time private sector workers

Not so fast. Those step increases reflect increased experience and capability and annual increases end after five full years of employment, with two bi-annual raises through year nine. Thereafter, only cost of living raises unless the person moves to another position with a higher grade. State employees work hard. I was one, and we gave it our all. I salute all those who go to work to serve the NH public every day and who only see grumpy politicians criticising them at every turn.

as usual Grant is 100% correct and provides FACTS. FACTS are like a foreign language to democrats. I think the article's title should be amended to "Bargaining tilted toward LIBERAL democrat run unions"

Unions are what made this country great and created the middle class, has their time come and gone? Probably, but since when is standing up for the worker a bad thing? Why do only liberals Americans support the workers? Your comment is more of an indictment of conservatives of your ilk, than democrats.

mauser, Unions came about for good reason - employer abuse. Unions can be a good counterbalancing institution. However, too many unions have become as corrupt as the problem they were created to fight. In addition, the idea they any union should be shielded from economic realty and expect to change in conditions when the rest of country is out of work, loosing homes and going bankrupt - is as bad as anything abusive employers ever did. be a constructive part of the solution instead of just another problem.

Well all one has to do to find rampant employer abuse is look at WalMart. WalMart has resource personnel whose sole job is to sign people up for State/Federal benefits because they have cut their programs. One of the more vile offenders is Caterpiller, even with record profits they shutdown union plants and and open $12/hr plants in Right to Work (for less) States. We may not have the robber Barons and copper boss's of the past but we are not in an employee friendly environment now. For the record, my wife is a teacher, in the last five years, her union has given up any seniority protection, co-pays have risen each year as well as employee deductibles and contributions for health care. So don't make the mistake that the other anti-union radicals make and lump all unions together. It's not a one size fits all.

Are you saying that the NH SEA is corrupt?

To Field of Ferns below. Yes, the SEA is more than likely corrupt but one only has to look at the leaders, the members. One leader of one of the chapters was involved in blogging all day at work, at all times of day and refused to step down as a union leader, was slapped on the wrist and suffered no real corrective action. The union refused to denounce this leader and in the end the state did not stand up to the union. The state and the union are in proverbial bed together

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