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September 21. 2012 12:38AM

Liquor stores' part-timer policy hit

CONCORD — If the New Hampshire Liquor Commission did not have enough problems, its treatment of part-time retail workers may be contrary to federal guidelines.

The commission has classified about 1,200 retail store clerks as temporary part-time workers and is not paying overtime when they work on Sundays and holidays.

At Wednesday’s Special House Committee to Evaluate the NH State Liquor Commission meeting, State Employees Association President Diana Lacey said temporary workers have few rights.

The commission is “applying terms of the (master) contract incorrectly,” she said, noting that the commission claims the part-time retail workers are temporary and not covered under the collective bargaining agreement.

Lacey has said in the past that the part-time retail workers have been covered under the agreement, but added that the two commissioners and the human resource administrator are fairly new to state government.

Committee Chairman Rep. Lynn Ober, R-Hudson, had sent committee members a memo from commission human services director Kelly Mathews dated Aug. 28 outlining how employees who work Sundays and holidays are to be paid.

The memo notes that work on Sundays and holidays is voluntary, and full-time and regularly scheduled part-time workers are to be paid time-and-a-half or receive time off at a rate equal to time-an-a-half when they do work.

But the memo also notes that a part-time retail employee who works Sundays or holidays will be paid at the employee’s regular rate of pay.

Ober told the committee, “I question whether we are treating employees in a way that meets federal guidelines.”

Lacey said her organization is working with the commission and the executive branch to resolve the issue.

“These 1,200 workers are the front line of a $600 million business and they are the most marginalized work force they have,” Lacey said. That is certainly not the way a major corporation would treat its frontline people, she said.

“A lot of money is being sent on high-level positions and outside consultants and fancy equipment,” Lacey said. “This is government. You don’t need a printer on every desk.”

She said her organization is trying to do the best it can working with commission. “We do not believe there is big corruption going on at the commission,” Lacey said. “But the reality is they can do better.”

Ultimately, if the committee can remove the ambiguity and make the commission more accountable, she said, that would go a long way to improving the situation.

Although several committee members expressed concern for the part-time retail workers, the committee is not expected to further investigate the issue, instead leaving it to the union, commission and state personnel agency to resolve.

The committee vice chairman, Rep. Jennifer Coffey, R-Andover, said this was another concern brought to the committee’s attention regarding problems with the commission.

Coffey expressed concern about missing liquor, attempts to shut down an agency store and posting Enforcement Chief Eddie Edwards’ job days after he testified before the committee.

“We’re not trying to rake anyone over the coals,” she said, “but I’ve gotten email from people who want to come forward and talk to us but are afraid for their jobs. Nobody should be afraid to speak up to the Legislature, to law enforcement, to anyone.”

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Garry Rayno may be reached at grayno@unionleader.com.


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