State Employees Association, Sununu renew negotiations with release of fact finder's report

  • The State House dome is seen on Nov. 18, 2016, as the restoration project nears completion. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 11/14/2019 5:23:43 PM
Modified: 11/14/2019 5:23:33 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu and state union officials are entering a new phase of negotiations this week over the next contract after an independent report was sent to both parties.

The parties received a confidential fact finder’s report Wednesday – an outside assessment of both sides’ arguments, the State Employees Association said in a statement Thursday.

According to state law, the receipt of that report sets off a ten-day countdown ultimatum for both sides to come to the table for a final agreement. If an agreement is reached before the end of that ten days, the report is not made public; if nothing happens after 10 days, the report is released.

The development could force the parties to come together to avoid any public fallout from the release of the report.  

In its announcement, the SEA said it would keep the report confidential until that window expires Nov. 23 “to allow sides to work out an agreement.”

“We've let the state know we're ready to get back to the table," the union said. 

Sununu’s office declined to comment on the report, citing the 10-day confidentiality window and saying further comment “would not be appropriate.” But in a statement, John Formella, the governor's counsel, said Sununu’s team would not sit back.

“Governor Sununu remains committed to delivering a new state employee contract that is fair to both state employees and taxpayers alike,” Formella said. 

Sununu and the unions have locked horns throughout his tenure, a tension most clearly displayed in 2017, when a breakdown in contract negotiations delayed agreement on the contract for nine months. 

In New Hampshire, contracts between the state and employees unions are designed to be negotiated every two years, with contracts due by July of the start of the budget biennium.

Aside from the SEA, contracts must be negotiated with New England Police Benevolent Association, New Hampshire Troopers Association, and Teamsters Local 633, which represents corrections officers – and jointly agreed upon. 

But clashes between Sununu’s office and the unions over pay raises and benefits have complicated that practice and led to the deadline being missed two cycles in a row. 

This year, friction appeared as early as February, when the lead negotiator for the SEA called a proposed plan from Sununu a “joke,” saying proposed wage increases were “miniscule.” 

Sununu meanwhile blasted the unions for asking for another pay raise after receiving one in the 2018 compromise contract, and highlighted a paid family leave program he was offering to state employees. 

Attempts to negotiate were short-lived as well. In April, after one day of mediation, the unions walked away from talks, lambasting what they called a “concessionary contract" offered by the governor's office at a time of economic strength. At the time, Sununu again highlighted pay raises in the two previous contracts.

The close of mediation sent the parties into fact-finding mode, the process where a third party neutral arbiter weighs the parties’ argument and issues a recommendation. That process lasted through the summer – and past the July 1 deadline – leading the parties to Wednesday when a report was delivered.

With the ten-day deadline now set in motion and due to expire Nov. 23, the parties have an incentive to agree or risk the contents of the report being made public.

In 2018, a similar ultimatum prompted by a different fact finder's report prompted a compromise before its release, leading to an agreement in which most state employees’ wages rose in two 1.5% installments, instead of the 0% preferred by Sununu.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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