CONCORD - The battle between the state liquor commission and the leadership of the state employees union reached new heights last week as the commission stepped up its efforts to bar the union president from visiting state liquor stores for at least the next six months.
Liquor commission management claims ongoing visits to state liquor stores by State Employee Association President Rich Gulla are "disruptive and intimidating."
Gulla, with the help of Democratic Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, is leading a campaign to bring public attention to large-volume cash sales by out-of-state buyers at state-run liquor stores, suggesting the state is complicit in bootlegging and other illegal activities and putting employees at risk.
Some NHLC employees and union members object to the approach Gulla and Volinsky have taken and claim that the union is either ignoring or trying to stifle their dissent. The union claims in its responses that the commission is guilty of bullying and intimidating its employees.
On Wednesday, NHLC Chairman Joseph Mollica notified the State Employees Association and the governor's Manager of Employee Relations that he was petitioning the state's Labor Management Committee to appoint an arbitrator to settle the dispute over Gulla's access.
The NHLC won't negotiate over the issue unless Gulla recuses himself. He has refused to do so, resulting in a stalemate.
In his July 11 petition for an arbitrator, Mollica writes that the SEA is "now engaging in employee intimidation and fearmongering in an attempt to incite employees and stifle dissenters. Its tactics are disrupting the workplace and harming employee morale."
Former SEA President Diana Lacey, employed in the Department of Health and Human Services, recently urged the SEA board to assign all NHLC matters to First Vice President Ken Roos.
She wrote in a lengthy email dated June 15 that Gulla, an NHLC employee, should recuse himself from any NHLC matters due to a personal conflict of interest. She revealed that the NHLC tried on two occasions to fire or discipline Gulla long before the current controversy arose, but reached agreements with the union in both cases.
The NHLC wants Gulla banned from visiting state liquor stores for at least six months or until all litigation associated with the dispute is resolved.
The commission agrees that other staff representatives of the association can continue to visit stores as provided in the collective bargaining agreement, but wants an arbitrator to order "the SEA shall cease and desist attempts to frighten, intimidate or silence NHLC employees."
The union filed a cross-grievance of its own, calling the NHLC attempt to bar Gulla "ludicrous."
"Saying that because there is currently some friction between the SEA and the NHLC the mere presence of the SEA president constitutes a disruption is, as I'm sure you understand, ludicrous," writes Charles McMahon, SEA grievance representative, in a response to the Public Employee Labor Relations Board.