Tuesday, September 2, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;82.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/skc.png;2014-09-02 17:12:59
Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mixed results for contracts at Town Meeting

Union contracts filling ballots last week met with different outcomes at Town Meetings across the region.

In Milford, voters approved contracts for district teachers, support staff and custodians, among other workers. But in Hudson, residents shot down seven contracts, covering police, fire, teachers and other workers, on the town and School District ballots. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

Union contracts filling ballots last week met with different outcomes at Town Meetings across the region.

In Milford, voters approved contracts for district teachers, support staff and custodians, among other workers. But in Hudson, residents shot down seven contracts, covering police, fire, teachers and other workers, on the town and School District ballots.

The differing votes mirror the mixed results
reported in other parts of the state, and they reflect the evolving attitudes toward organized labor across the region and around the state, labor leaders said last week.

“It’s always a mix,” Suzanne Schedin, vice president of the Milford Teachers Association, said of public attitudes toward organized labor.

“You get some people who hear the word ‘union’ and they get upset, then you get other people who hear ‘union’ and they think of teachers and policemen and firemen. They think of their friends, their neighbors.”

Unions have had a bumpy ride in the court of public opinion in recent years.

When the economy went south starting in 2008, many labor groups found themselves under attack in the state Legislature. In 2011 and 2012, after Republicans took control of the state House and Senate, lawmakers pushed to weaken unions with votes on Right to Work legislation, among other bills, most of which fell short.

Still, those political attacks often didn’t extend beyond the Statehouse, labor leaders said.

Over the last two years, despite the ongoing battles in Concord, voters approved all 10 teachers contracts involving local chapters of the American Federation of Teachers, said Laura Hainey, president of the state AFT branch.

“The communities were more respectful, local school boards, city councils, because they know personally these people,” Hainey said. “Whereas at the Statehouse, people are more guarded. I didn’t see a lot of that carry over.”

Now, with the economy showing some signs
of improvement, negotiations have grown even more productive, labor leaders and local officials said last week.

Union groups have made concessions in health care and salary increases. The Milford teachers union, for instance, agreed this year to forgo its customary step raises.

“We know times are tough,” Schedin said. “We thought it might be something that could be helpful.”

Meanwhile, local officials are working to reward town workers both for the concessions and their hard work by restoring cost-of-living increases, among other benefits.

“We have to realize that these people are professional. They provide a valuable service in that they protect our property and our lives,” Roger Coutu, chairman of the Hudson selectmen, said last week, referring to the town’s firefighters and police officers, among other workers. “We need to reward them for the great service they provide.”

For many local voters, the increases remain difficult to afford, Coutu said, speaking of the seven union contracts defeated at Town Meeting.

“It’s not hard to tell a lot of people have lost their jobs, a lot of people aren’t getting raises,” he said. “A lot of people are uncertain about the state of the economy. … It’s hard to blame them.”

Still, the defeated contracts could come back to cost the town in other ways, labor leaders warned.

Local police officers have been without a contract since 2010, and firefighters will now enter their fifth straight year without a contract, said Erich Weeks, the union president.

Some firefighters, who haven’t seen a pay raise during that time, are now beginning to consider leaving in favor of neighboring communities that offer better pay and benefits, Weeks said.

“We just lost one guy” who had been in Hudson for 15 years, he said. “Fifteen years. … You can only be dedicated for so long.”

Now with the teachers contract set to expire in August, Hudson schools could suffer a similar fate, according to union President Beth Lavoie.

The district already offers one of the lowest pay rates in the state, Lavoie said. And despite other benefits, including strong camaraderie among the staff, teachers could soon be forced to leave the town, she warned.

“This is a great district in a lot of ways,” said Lavoie, an English teacher at Alvirne High School. “But at some point, some of these young teachers who are trying to buy homes, who are trying to have a family, they’re going to have to look elsewhere. Their income has been stunted.”

Coutu is hopeful voters will reconsider the contracts at next year’s election.

“It’s my wish that we can get the unions to agree to the same contracts we proposed,” he said.

In other towns, voters won’t have to wait so long to weigh in on local union contracts.

Merrimack residents heading to the polls April 9 will vote on five contract proposals, covering police, firefighters and highway workers, among others.

And labor leaders, both local and around the state, are hopeful about the outcome.

“We gave a little. They gave a little. It was a very respectful and positive experience,” said Michael Cirelli, president of the Merrimack Teachers Association.

“Overall, I’d say things have been a little more productive” than past years, said David Lang, president of Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, the statewide union. “As long as management and labor continue in that proactive and productive way, then the citizens are very well served by that.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Berry on Twitter (Telegraph_JakeB).