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State employees union wants changes made to liquor commission personnel, policies

State House Bureau

June 05. 2018 10:53PM

CONCORD — The union representing state employees has stepped up its attacks on the state liquor commission with a new web ad and a letter to its members, calling for new policies and new leadership at the NHLC.

The liquor commission calls the web ad and letter “a well-orchestrated charade designed to distort the facts, question the integrity of the Attorney General’s office and distract from the growing employee unrest with (union) leadership.”

The web ad posted to the State Employees Association website on June 3 is a well-produced, one-minute spot with a horror movie soundtrack in the background and shifting graphics as the narrator outlines the controversy surrounding bulk transactions to suspected bootleggers from out of state at NHLC locations.

“The New Hampshire Liquor Commission has been at the center of controversy that includes allegations of tax evasion and allegations from other states that New Hampshire may be complicit in organized criminal activity,” says the narrator, who then alludes to past investigations of the NHLC by the state Legislature.

“Allegations against the New Hampshire Liquor Commission are nothing new and have spanned decades. So this begs the question, why hasn’t the attorney general taken a hard line against possible criminal activity.”

The ad then goes on to call for “professional management.”

“The NHLC is a $1 billion operation. It deserves a professional management team capable of overseeing that, and one that puts employee safety at the forefront of its operational planning.

The post includes a link to a lengthy memorandum to state employees from union president Rich Gulla, criticizing the NHLC for “attacking the messenger” rather than dealing with the problem.

“The SEA members at NH liquor stores provide significant value and experience throughout the entire retail process. As the people on the front lines, they understand like no one else what is transpiring in our stores and want to create and protect a retail operation on which the entire state can depend. To do that, the commission must stop attacking the messenger and work with us to responsibly face these issues,” he writes.

The memorandum can be viewed below:

Cash handling at issue

A major concern for the union, according to Gulla, is cash handling at liquor stores.

“These issues include counting large sums of cash at registers (four separate times) in full view of customers,” he writes. “Further, store employees have expressed serious concern regarding bank deposit practices. The policy includes individual store employees carrying large amounts of cash to make deposits. The commission has not resolved this issue.”

The attorney general is investigating the issues raised by the union and by Democratic Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, who has been assisting the union in bringing its concerns forward. Gulla writes that the SEA has little confidence in the AG investigation.

“We do not expect any aggressive action from the attorney general … We fully expect that structured, related sales will, again, not be subject to state scrutiny, and blaming the messenger will continue.”

The answer, according to the SEA, is new management at the liquor commission.

“We believe the state must hire a qualified CEO to run the liquor commission and eliminate the patronage job it has been for many years,” he states.

Awaiting a response

Liquor commission officials say they met with members of the union leadership and their legal counsel before the most recent controversy began to request input on changes to the large volume sales policy, and “To this day, we have not received a response.”

NHLC officials say they follow all federal laws and IRS regulations but cannot put employees in the position of questioning out-of-state customers to determine what they will do with their purchases.

Liquor store management has installed smart safes and is now using armored car transport for large deposits, according to the commission statement.

The June 3 posting and accompanying letter on the SEA website came days after the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the State Public Employee Labor Relations Board.

Firing challenged

The May 24 complaint claims the state employee who worked with Volinsky on Feb. 3 to capture video of bulk sales at a Keene liquor store was fired on Feb. 28 for being a whistleblower.

The NHLC maintains he was fired for violating liquor commission policies on bulk transactions by dividing a large-volume sale into three sales so that the purchasers would not have to file the required IRS forms.

The employee, Garrett Boes, was also active in the union and targeted for that reason, according to the SEA.

Gov. Chris Sununu told reporters in February that he supports an investigation by the attorney general into the activities described by Volinsky, but also wants Volinsky’s conduct at state liquor stores investigated for possible impropriety.

The investigation by the attorney general is continuing.

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