THROUGHOUT the coronavirus crisis, one thing’s been crystal clear. Granite State workers are strong, resourceful and resilient. This includes first responders, nurses, teachers, grocery store workers, the restaurant workers staffing take-out and many, many others. I am grateful that Governor Sununu has recognized some of these workers by granting an emergency 10% raise to retail workers at state liquor stores in recognition of the hazards they face. He should show that he values the hard work of all state workers now by concluding the long-stalled negotiations with the State Employees International Union and agreeing with the neutral factfinder’s conclusion that state workers deserve a signed contract.
Our state workers, who are urgently processing unemployment claims, checking on abused children and performing public health roles, deserve the respect that a negotiated contract represents. The 8,500 workers who are represented by the State Employees International Union voted to drop other demands and accept the state factfinder’s recommendations back in December in order to receive a small cost-of-living raise and improve their relations with the state. The work of these state employees is essential. They hold together institutions that are keeping us all afloat during this time of crisis. Our investment in them will allow us to all come out of this crisis stronger. This investment is also good for the economy because state employees are part of the local economy.
The governor has signaled that he is unwilling to work cooperatively with state employees by who he has chosen to lead his negotiating team. Breaking with experience and tradition, the governor relies on a former state employee to negotiate. This person failed to reach an agreement previously and is an impediment to reaching agreement now. Maybe this is the point.
The job of lead negotiator rightly should be assigned to the Manager of Employee Relations, Elizabeth McCormick. Although Governor Sununu nominated McCormick and the Executive Council approved her for this role, the governor relies on someone who has shown he cannot get the job done. Letting McCormick do her job would be a sign of good faith.
This isn’t really about the money. Governor Sununu approved a contract with a cost-of-living raise for a small number of state workers represented by the Teamsters union. In January, the governor approved a contract that gave correctional officers represented by the Teamsters a raise and overtime protections. The governor’s lead negotiator, however, refuses to treat the supervisors in the same prisons in the same fashion because they are represented by the State Employees Union. These supervisors are working without a contract under the old wage scales. They are top-level, experienced prison supervisors who are coveted by county jails and prisons in other states. I worry that the state is being petty and shortsighted in how it treats its prison supervisors. Please, let’s bargain in good faith with all state employees and use this time of crisis to improve labor management relations in our state. It is in our common interest to do so.