This is my first negotiation with the State Employees Association (SEA), representing more than 7,000 state employees, whose jobs are as varied as one can imagine. From new employees to those who have faithfully worked for the state for well over 40 years, these people have committed themselves to serve the citizens of New Hampshire to improve the quality of life for everyone as best as they can.
They do their jobs willingly, and do them to the best of their ability, every day throughout the year, 365 days, 24 hours a day in every type of climate and facility one can imagine. They do not do it for the accolades or recognition, but because they are committed to their careers and the citizens of our state.
In return, all that is asked is to be treated with respect and dignity, and to be compensated fairly. One does not choose to work for the State of New Hampshire to become rich. Nor should state employees expect to be struggling to support their families because they cannot financially afford to be employed by the state. Unfortunately, that is becoming more and more common as great and talented people leave state employment.
It is disappointing to hear, “I cannot earn enough money to work here anymore.” This is sad, and not a reason people should leave state service. Our average working age is 47, and a full 60 percent are eligible to retire. These are the facts, not some abstract number that is made up.
The SEA’s Master Bargaining Team has been meeting regularly with the state negotiating team for more than eight months now; and to say at times it has been overwhelming would be an understatement. The decisions affect real people and have serious repercussions. This is serious business and a tremendous responsibility borne by all at the bargaining table.
Our team objective has been to reach a fair contract. Nothing more, nothing less. We have been without wage increases for four years, have paid more to retirement costs, work more with less, and watched the state’s coffers produce revenue surpluses recently. While we all recognize the financial hardship the state has faced in recent years, the corner has been turned. SEA members were there to the tune of more than $50 million in concessions, while enduring additional job losses of more than $50 million through layoffs and attrition. It is now time for the state to recognize these facts and compensate us fairly.
Time and time again during these negotiations the state has asked for more give backs while ignoring the sacrifices we have made, taking the attitude: “that was in the past; let’s just move on.” And yet the state knows we paid our concessions forward. The state may have forgotten that, but our families have not. Today, they still feel the sting. Today, they say, “no more sacrifice.”
Now the state must realize we have given all we can give. Now the state needs to treat us with a fair contract. Earlier this month, Gov. Maggie Hassan met with labor leaders to praise their work. Now she needs to recognize her own employees in the same manner. A fair contract will accomplish this; our families need one now!
Dennis Meuse III is a Department of Transportation employee from Bedford and a member of the State Employees Association bargaining team.