Unions file unfair labor practices complaints against cityBy PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader
January 10. 2018 9:11AM
MANCHESTER — Attorneys for unions representing city firefighters and highway department personnel have filed unfair labor practices complaints against the city with the state’s Public Employee Labor Relations Board, related to recommended changes to municipal employee health insurance plans.
The complaints were filed Dec. 21 by attorney Richard Molan on behalf of Manchester Professional Fire Firefighters Association, AFSCME Local 298 — representing members in the Highway, Facilities, Environmental Protection, Traffic, Parks & Rec., Fleet and Health Departments; and the Manchester Association of Fire Supervisors, IAFF Local 3820.
“We have been in negotiations and have been willing to talk about anything at any time,” said Jeff Duval, president of the Manchester Professional Fire Firefighters Association. “Some of the changes were presented as administrative only and wouldn’t have an impact on members. Not only was that information misleading it has had a negative impact on some of our members.”
According to the complaints, in March of 2017 Jane Gile, human resources director for Manchester, recommended to the Aldermanic Human Resources and Insurance Committee several changes to the current health insurance plan offered to municipal employees. In April, aldermen suggested the unions be apprised of the situation, and on May 5 a meeting was held between representatives of the unions and the city, a meeting that Gile termed as “informational only,” according to Duval.
In a letter dated May 15, the firefighters union advised Gile that the issues were mandatory subjects of bargaining.
“The initial changes were supposed to be administrative in nature but have not turned out that way,” said Duval. “Some medications that members have been on for years are being taken away even though their physicians agree they need to be on them. Initially this was to be for new conditions and medications, but that has not been the case.”
According to the complaint, another meeting was held on June 2, 2017 where terms of the changes were discussed. Following the meeting Molan sent Daniel Cocuzzo, the city’s chief negotiator at the time, a proposal adopting the changes in exchange for certain pay adjustments. That offer was rejected by the city.
Duval said after July 1, the union became aware the city’s proposed policy changes had been put into effect. An email from Gile sent Aug. 25 confirmed the plan had been adopted and put in place.
“It shows a total disrespect for the process and the employees that work so hard for the city,” said Dennis Bourgeois, President of AFSCME Local 298. “This is just another example of how chaotic the HR department has been in the last five years and ultimately these decisions cost the taxpayers money. The time and energy we have to go through to resolve the simplest things still amazes me. It’s really a shame.”
“In reality there are only two scenarios that could have occurred,” said Jim Michael, president of the Manchester Association of Fire Supervisors. “First, nobody in the HR Department understands the labor laws of the state or second, they do understand them and chose to ignore them. Either way, it’s disconcerting.”
“The city instituted common sense changes in the administration of its prescription drug program in an effort to eliminate unnecessary and wasteful spending,” said Gile. “These administrative changes have had no material impacts to employees. The administrative changes that the city implemented are the very same changes Anthem instituted in similar plans it offers in both the public and private sectors. Because the city is self-insured, the city was given the option to adopt these same cost containment measures. The city is merely following the lead of the country’s largest health insurance carrier in instituting cost containment measures that will hopefully offset future increases in the premiums paid by both the city and its employees.”
Mayor Joyce Craig issued a statement Tuesday addressing the dispute.
“I believe it’s in the best interest of the city of Manchester that we work together when implementing changes to ensure we’re controlling costs while providing employees with quality health care coverage,” said Craig. “I am hopeful that together we can solve this dispute through ongoing negotiations.”
“The most disturbing issue for our members is that some of these medications are truly life saving and are now being denied and the members need to start over,” said Duval. “But just as upsetting to the members and especially the leadership of the unions is the fact the HR Director feels she can implement these changes on her own and bypass the collective bargaining agreement.”
“The city believes it is in the best interest of labor and management to work together to implement these common sense administrative changes that will help to ensure that the city can continue to provide its employees with excellent health insurance coverage well into the future,” said Gile. “The city is hopeful that the unions will work with the city to resolve this dispute through ongoing negotiations or the use of the dispute resolution process.”
In the complaint, the unions are asking the Labor Board to force the city to cease and desist from enforcing the changes and “make any member that has suffered financially whole.”
No date has been set for the labor relations board to hear the complaint.