Following an explanation of the Hassan administration’s proposal for a new employment contract with over 7800 employees, the State Employees’ Association’s (SEA) Collective Bargaining Senate voted to accept this proposal as a tentative agreement (TA). They will now send this TA to the full membership for a vote with a recommendation to approve.
The state and employee contract bargaining teams began meeting in January 2013. On June 20, the SEA Bargaining Team presented an initial proposal to the SEA Bargaining Senate that produced a number of questions and concerns. Due to the complexities and uncertainties of proposed provisions, the Bargaining Senate asked the team to return to the bargaining table.
The main sticking points, a new health care plan design and dramatic changes to sick leave provisions, have been addressed and an amicable compromise has been met. The State withdrew its proposed changes to sick leave accruals and SEA members will receive a 6% wage increase in three increments between now and 2015. The most significant change came from the members’ commitment to be “all in to win.”
“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 1100 positions,” said Governor Hassan. “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 healthcare savings to the state.”
The employees’ health benefits will now include first ever deductibles for individual and family plans and a new site of service provision that is designed to further curtail medical costs. The agreement includes a new health promotions program designed to encourage employees to adopt healthier behaviors. The settlement also includes a stand-alone dental benefit for which employees will pay monthly premiums. “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’s bargaining team. “The steps we have already taken over the last few years have netted more than $60 million in savings for the state.” Both the state and the SEA representatives agree that the institution of new contractual incentives for preventive care in the contract will result in better health outcomes.
“Encouraging preventive care, through basic measures like flu shots and physicals, and improving the coordination of health care will strengthen the well-being of state employees and help generate significant savings for the state,” said Governor Hassan. “By coming together and working constructively, we have successfully achieved our shared goals of providing additional support to our state employees while strengthening the state’s long-term financial outlook through an innovative approach to reducing healthcare costs.“
“I (Governor Hassan) thank the SEA leadership team and state negotiators for their good-faith efforts to find common ground and reach a deal, within the constraints of the state budget, that is fair to all parties.”
“This has been a long process – longer than what either side would have wanted,” said Diana Lacey, president of the SEA. “The state experienced significant challenges with new software and staff shortages. It delayed their ability to produce the data we needed to analyze in order to reach this compromise. 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 NH residents, while supporting their own families, too.”
“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 NH, and the rest of the employees covered by our health plan,” said Jim Nall, chair of the Executive Branch Master Bargaining Team. “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.”
SEA representatives will begin visiting worksites to discuss the proposed changes in more detail with rank and file members. The union and the state hope to have a ratified contract in time for the health insurance provider’s open enrollment period, later in November.