My Turn: New Hampshire is negotiating with state employees in good faith

For the Monitor
Saturday, December 02, 2017

As the manager of employee relations for the state of New Hampshire, I am writing to take issue with Richard Gulla’s assertions in his recent letter to the editor (Monitor letters, Nov. 27). It is time to set the record straight on the collective-bargaining process.

First of all, state employees continue to work under the existing contract and continue to receive step increases and longevity bonuses, as well as a very generous health care plan for employees and their families. While it is true we continue to negotiate a new contract going forward, the prior contract continues in what is known as “evergreen” or “status quo.”

The New Hampshire General Court long ago recognized the importance of an orderly and fair process for negotiation between state government leaders and the unions that represent state employees. Each side starts by presenting their proposals, then we move to mediation and if the two sides still cannot agree, the next step is for each side to explain their positions to a fact finder and for the fact finder to issue a report. This process is called fact finding, and it is where we now stand. Unfortunately, Gulla’s letter doesn’t reflect the administration’s actions and intentions throughout this process.

The state bargaining team has been and will continue to be extremely transparent, forthright and realistic in communicating what might be possible and what flexibility the state has in negotiating collective bargaining agreements with the four unions that represent state employees. There is a very clear process that is provided for in state law and that was put in place years ago. We have followed that process in good faith and to the letter of the law.

When it comes to the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements, the state bargaining team does not pay attention to or engage in social media campaigns or propaganda that attempts to influence the process. However, a recent letter written directly by SEIU President Richard Gulla requires a response to correct the record. Though he is perfectly aware that the collective bargaining process has entered fact finding, Gulla leads readers to believe that the administration refuses to continue negotiations. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Gulla and the governor have already signed two sub-unit agreements negotiated between the state and the SEA.

We are currently negotiating in good faith according to the process that the law mandates – by preparing presentations and submissions for the fact finder. Gulla also continues to mislead the public by claiming that the governor gave himself a raise, when Gulla knows full well that the governor’s salary is set by statute.

The state bargaining team does not expect that the unions will agree with our position 100 percent of the time. However, we hope and expect that those on the other side of the bargaining table will be forthright and willing to work within the process with integrity. Without that, the process breaks down completely. If union leadership are unhappy with the legal requirements of the collective bargaining process, then those concerns should be addressed through legislation. The administration cannot deviate from the legal process or act contrary to the law.

I think all of our citizens and state employees will agree that, above all else, we have to have a process that follows the law. I have faith in our process and in our law. I think the citizens of New Hampshire and employees of the state have that same faith. We may not agree on the details, and we may not agree on the flexibility that the state has to provide for and meet every demand made by the unions. But in the end, we must be honest in our negotiations, and we must maintain faith in and follow the rules.

For the sake of the members that they represent, I truly hope union leaders will join us in working through the prescribed fact finding process in good faith.

(Matthew J. Newland is manager of employee relations for the state of New Hampshire.)