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Thursday, October 31, 2013

State employees to vote on contract offering the first raises in 5 years

CONCORD – Ending a long, sometimes bitter negotiation, a proposed, three-year contract for 7,800 state employees now goes to the rank-and-file for a final vote.

The bargaining group of the State Employees Association on Tuesday night overwhelmingly endorsed the tentative agreement reached between the union and Gov. Maggie Hassan. ...

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CONCORD – Ending a long, sometimes bitter negotiation, a proposed, three-year contract for 7,800 state employees now goes to the rank-and-file for a final vote.

The bargaining group of the State Employees Association on Tuesday night overwhelmingly endorsed the tentative agreement reached between the union and Gov. Maggie Hassan.

If approved, it will grant all state workers their first raise since 2009, a three-step increase totaling 6 percent through 2015.

“We know it took us longer to get here than the rest of the unions, but in our ‘all in’ spirit, we have struck a deal that will better benefit the people of New Hampshire , and the rest of the employees covered by our health plan,” said Jim Nall, chairman of the master bargaining team for the union.

“The settlement gives both the employees and employer a solid stake at further lowering health costs and frees up money for wages that employees desperately need.”

Hassan praised the agreement in a statement issued after the union group had taken its vote in a closed-door session.

“Throughout the recession, New Hampshire’s dedicated and hard-working state employees pitched in by giving up pay raises, paying more for their health care and doing more with less as the state workforce dropped by 1,100 positions,” Hassan said.

“This is a fair agreement for both employees and taxpayers that will provide the first cost-of-living raises for employees in five years and provide important health care savings to the state.”

The agreement includes the first deductible that state workers have to pay for health care coverage, $500 for singles and $750 for families in the first year.

The deductible goes up to $1,000 for families in 2015.

The deal also includes incentives for state workers to take part in wellness programs, the expenses of which can be used toward their deductible.

And for the first time, state workers will have to pay premiums to receive dental benefits.

In return, state negotiators agreed to drop a provision that would have reduced how much unused sick leave time state workers can carry over from year to year.

“We have long recognized the need to take a more active role in managing our own health and the associated costs,” said Linda Huard, a member of the SEA team. “The steps we have already taken over the last few years have netted more than $60 million in savings for the state.”

The last state budget called for $50 million in savings on personnel, which resulted in the layoffs of more than 150 employees and the elimination of hundreds of vacant state jobs.

The two-year state budget Hassan signed in June contained up to $27 million to pay for the raises, but it also assumed the health care savings provisions that cut the net cost of the agreement by $10 million.

The two sides had reached an agreement last spring but the SEA’s bargaining group turned it down and refused to submit it to state workers.

After that vote, a federal mediator was brought in to try to settle the dispute but those talks did not result in enough progress.

Both sides began talking informally a few weeks ago, and union officials announced last week they were close to a final deal and scheduled this vote of the Senate.

“This has been a long process – longer than what either side would have wanted,” said Diana Lacey, president of the SEA. “In the end, after five years without a raise, I think we have arrived at a proposal that is fair and will allow the state employees to continue to provide critical services for New Hampshire residents, while supporting their own families, too.”

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).