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Labor board dismisses union charges against Sununu

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 26. 2017 10:32PM

CONCORD — In a split decision, a state labor relations board Friday sided with Gov. Chris Sununu and ruled all five labor unions representing state workers must jointly negotiate with state managers about new collective bargaining contracts.

The State Employees Association and the New England Police Benevolent Association had filed unfair labor practice charges against Sununu after the governor’s negotiating team refused to continue bargaining on salary and benefit issues with those unions.

The Sununu negotiators ceased talks because three other unions declared an impasse in March and stepped away from the bargaining table.

The SEA is by far the largest union representing more than 50 separate units throughout state agencies.

The NEPBA has five units that include Fish and Game employees, state liquor enforcement officers and probation and parole employees with the state prison system.

The other three unions, representing state troopers, State Police supervisors and state prison correction officers, declared an impasse after Sununu’s team announced the governor would not support any wage increases for the next contracts when the current ones expires on June 30.

According to union officials, Sununu’s negotiating team said they opposed any pay raises for state workers in part because the unions have received five increases totaling 10 percent since November 2013.

Instead, Sununu negotiators offered to make no changes in health care benefits. Legislative leaders confirmed that Sununu’s proposed two-year budget set aside $31.5 million in state dollars to cover increased costs of that benefits package and the full cost of the last pay raise that took effect in January 2016.

The Public Employees Labor Relations Board ruled, 2-1, that the collective bargaining law means all these unions must jointly bargain wages together, so these unions as a group must decide whether to all return to negotiations or have their disputes resolved through mediation.

“The unions must now coordinate with each other to determine the forum in which negotiations will go forward,” the PELRB decision said.

Sununu’s negotiators and the Teamsters who represent correction officers agreed in April to hire economist Allen McCausland to serve as a mediator to try to resolve their dispute.

SEA President Rich Gulla said his group is mulling its options in light of the ruling and despite the decision he repeated a call for Sununu to come back to the bargaining table.

“Our members — who plow our roads, keep our streets safe and care for our elderly and mentally ill — do important work. That’s why we filed this unfair labor practice,” Gulla said.

“We need a contract that helps them do their jobs, take care of their families and keeps us competitive. Despite the PELRB’s decision, we will continue fighting for a contract on behalf of New Hampshire workers.”

In a minority ruling, PELRB member and ex-State Sen. Mark Hounsell said the decision was not workable.

“Can two of the five unions force the other three into impasse mediation or fact finding?” Hounsell asked rhetorically.

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Thank you, Sununu