N.H.’s governor, public unions reach tentative deal on contracts 

Monitor staff
Monday, April 23, 2018

New Hampshire’s public sector unions have reached a tentative agreement with Gov. Chris Sununu over employee contracts, the parties announced Monday, signaling a likely end to a standoff that’s dragged on for months.

In a joint statement, the parties unveiled the broad outlines of a plan that could bring an often-acrimonious negotiation process to a close.

Under the agreement, the State Employees Association (SEA), New England Police Benevolent Association and the New Hampshire Troopers Association would each receive a 1.5 percent wage increase for the remainder of 2018 and an additional 1.5 percent raise at the start of 2019.

State corrections officers would get a 9.1 percent pay bump at the start of fiscal year 2019, in July – a higher number intended to match salaries with other states.

Employees would be expected to take cuts to sick and bonus leave benefits in exchange, according to the governor’s office. The total cost for all contracts amounts to $13.5 million in fiscal year 2019.

The plan still needs approval from the Legislature and from union members themselves – and small details are still being hammered out among individual unions, representatives said. But it represents a step forward, parties said.

Sununu was elated.

“We have an excellent collective bargaining process in place, and that process worked,” he said in a statement. “While neither side got everything it wanted, both sides kept faith with the process, negotiated in good faith, and achieved a fair compromise that delivers a true win-win for the State and its hard-working employees.”

Relations haven’t always been so even-keeled. Since July, public-sector workers have been operating without contracts, after a breakdown in negotiations last spring. From his first months in office, the SEA had pressed Sununu for a 3 percent increase in salaries, arguing it was necessary to meet the rising cost of living. But Sununu vowed no new increases, pointing to past raises under prior administrations, and stood his ground.

The dispute led to an impasse, preventing the parties from agreeing to a contract in time for the July 1 fiscal year deadline. In the months since, union representatives and advocates have sought to ramp up political pressure, staging regular rallies outside the State House and brandishing signs pressing for a fair contract.

Monday’s announced agreement came after the release last Wednesday of a long-awaited set of fact-finding reports, according to Melissa Moriarty, spokeswoman for the SEA. Those reports – tailored to each union – remain redacted from public viewing until this Saturday. But they spurred the negotiations that led to the tentative agreement, she added.

The journey is far from over – or certain. For the SEA – which represents everyone from state department employees to community college teachers to state hospital workers – several steps remain. The agreement must be approved by its bargaining senate, comprising local leaders, and then by the body of union members itself.

The SEA bargaining senate is scheduled to meet and vote Thursday. But before that can happen, final details are still being resolved with the negotiating team, according to Moriarty.

“We’re still going back and forth on the minute details,” she said. “We have a potential tentative agreement but nothing that’s set in stone.”

For the SEA, the 1.5 percent annual increases represent a compromise between their original request of a 3 percent bump and the governor’s vow of no raises. But questions may linger over the proposed changes to sick and bonus leave – a touchy subject for the unions.

Still, Moriarty touted the raises as a win for workers.

“We are happy that the governor has moved from his position of zero percent increase,” Moriarty said.

Other union representatives struck similar notes of optimism.

“Teamsters Local 633’s negotiating committee wholeheartedly supports this contract settlement,” said Jeff Padellaro, secretary of Teamsters Local 633, which represents corrections officers.

Padellaro urged the Legislature to approve the money. And Ronald Scaccia, chief negotiator for the New England Police Benevolent Association, said that the experience should be taken as a lesson.

“Hopefully, going forward, the State recognizes that to retain its qualified law enforcement personnel who risk their lives for the citizens of N.H., they must offer competitive wages and benefits,” Scaccia said.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)