NEA President: Supreme Court Silences Voices of Working Families

Supreme Court of the US (Image Mark Fischer Flickr)

Harris v. Quinn ruling creates uncertainty, instability for economic prosperity

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court of the United States today struck another blow against working families with its narrow 5-4 decision  in Harris v. Quinn when it eliminated agency fee arrangements for Illinois home healthcare workers. By casting doubt on case law that has been settled for decades, the Court’s ruling also creates insecurity and instability for employers and unions throughout the public sector. Harris v. Quinn was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), a political group whose extreme agenda seeks to weaken the power of working people.

At issue in the case was whether non-union members could reap the wages, benefits and protections negotiated in a collectively bargained contract without needing to pay their fair share. The National Education Association, joined by California Teachers Association and Change to Win, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court to expose the truly radical nature of NRTW’s arguments and underscore their audacious claim that public-sector collective bargaining itself is constitutionally suspect.

The following statement can be attributed to NEA President Dennis Van Roekel:

“Quality public services, economic stability and prosperity starts with strong unions, but today the Supreme Court of the United States created a roadblock on that path to the American Dream. This ruling jeopardizes a proven method for raising the quality of home health care services—namely, allowing home health care workers to join together in a strong union that can bargain for increased wages, affordable health care and increased training.

“Americans count on quality public services provided by public employees like educators. We need workplaces, including public schools, where front-line employees have a voice. Today’s decision shuts the door on one proven method for ensuring that public sector workers’ voices are heard.  At a time when we are just starting to dig out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we should be creating an economy that works for all of us—not taking radical steps that undermine the rights of public workers while creating uncertainty and instability in the workplace.

“As a high school teacher and coach for 23 years, I saw how the entire team benefited when we all worked together. With today’s ruling, the Supreme Court took away the fairness and camaraderie that comes with working in a team. Agency fees are a common-sense, straight-forward way to ensure fairness and protect equity and individual rights. Every educator who enjoys the benefits and protections of a negotiated contract should, in fairness, contribute to maintaining the contract. And fair share simply makes sure that all educators share the cost of negotiations for benefits that all educators enjoy, regardless of whether they are association members.

“Despite today’s decision, we know that public sector workers will continue to organize—in public sector bargaining states and non-bargaining states, in agency fee states and right to work states—because public sector workers know that a union is the best way for all of us to ensure good schools, quality public services and economic prosperity.”

Minneapolis Federation Of Teachers’ Ratify Contract That Strengthens Public Education

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Editor’s Note: Today it was announced that the Minneapolis Federation of Teacher ratified a new contract.  While ratifying a contract is good news, the details of their contract are even better.  This is why I decided to share this with all of the NH Labor News. — MATT

AFT President Weingarten on Minneapolis Teachers’ Contract Ratification

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WASHINGTON—Statement from AFT President Randi Weingarten on the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers’ ratification of a new contract agreement with the Minneapolis Public Schools:

“This agreement helps reclaim the promise of public education in Minneapolis. It opens a new chapter in the relationship that includes the Minneapolis community, Minneapolis educators and the city’s public school system. The agreement enables partners to work together to create community schools tailored to meet students’ needs, and it recognizes and values the voice and experience of educators in strengthening Minneapolis schools and helping all children succeed.

“The agreement ratified today was a product of nine months of tough negotiations and mediation. The vote by MFT members to approve it is a statement of their continuing commitment to the collective bargaining process as the best way to define the solutions that will serve all children.

“By taking important steps toward limiting class sizes—particularly in the city’s high-priority schools—this agreement advances the goal that teachers, parents and all who care about Minneapolis children share: making sure that all students, no matter what neighborhood they live in, receive the support they need to succeed, with equity in resources across the school district.

“I commend MFT President Lynn Nordgren and her bargaining team for working through many challenges in negotiations with the school district to reach an agreement that will be good for both teaching and learning. This agreement:

  • For the first time ever, makes class size targets public, sets a limit of 18 students for K-3 classes in high-priority schools, and includes a commitment from the district to respond to class size issues within five days.
  • Establishes an audit of standardized assessments, with the stated goal of reducing the time devoted to testing and test preparation beginning with the 2014-15 school year.
  • Establishes a collaborative process for creating Community Partnership Schools that will allow teachers to take a lead role in developing site-based educational models designed to meet the particular needs of students at individual schools.
  • Includes small increases in compensation in each year of the contract. These raises recognize the value of MFT members’ contributions and commitment to the children of Minneapolis—and they come after four straight years in which teachers received no cost of living increases.”

The new two-year agreement covers the current and the 2014-15 school years. It will take effect following approval by the board of education, which is expected at the board’s next regular meeting.

Jobs With Justice Relaunches With New Website, Brand and Expanded Agenda

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jobs-with-justice-logoWashington, D.C.—Today, Jobs With Justice is proud to unveil its new website and brand to complete the organization’s relaunch as a result of the 2012 merger between Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work. The new website can be viewed at www.jwj.org.

“As the new Jobs With Justice, we are leading the fight for workers’ rights and an economy that benefits everyone. By bringing together labor, community, student and faith voices at the national and local levels, we are creating innovative solutions to the problems workers face today,” said Executive Director Sarita Gupta.

Already this year, the organization has helped immigrant workers earn precedent-setting U visas to protect them against employer retaliation, secured a meeting for students with Sallie Mae’s CEO to address the company’s role in the student debt crisis, pushed for the implementation of the Department of Labor’s new rule extending overtime and minimum wage protections to two million home care workers, and stood with retail and fast food workers who walked off the job to demand better wages and working conditions. So far this year, the Jobs With Justice network engaged in campaigns impacting more than 500,000 workers. The organization also issued dozens of original research reports and policy materials.

“As our country faces stagnating wages and economic growth, Jobs With Justice is an essential voice in the fight against economic inequality,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America and Jobs With Justice board member.

Added David Bonior, former majority whip, founding chair of American Rights at Work, and current Jobs With Justice board member, “The ability of Jobs With Justice to work nationally and locally, on-the ground and online, to win real change for workers is exactly what this movement needs.”

By combining strategic campaigns, innovative communications, and solid research and policy advocacy with robust grassroots action and mobilization, the organization will continue to build on the combined 35-year history of Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work.

For more information and to access earlier publications and resources from American Rights at Work, please visit www.jwj.org.

PSNH Building Mechanics and Attendant Ratify First Contract

IBEW Asst. B.M. Tom Ryan congratulates Tom Eaton on first contract.
IBEW Asst. B.M. Tom Ryan congratulates Tom Eaton on first contract.

IBEW Asst. B.M. Tom Ryan congratulates Tom Eaton on first contract.

Reposted from IBEW 1837

November 26, 2013 – The Building Mechanics and Attendant at Public Service Company of New Hampshire have ratified their first collective bargaining agreement and have officially become members of IBEW Local Union #1837. The contract vote was held this morning at the PSNH garage facility in Manchester.

“I want to thank Building Mechanic Tom Eaton for all the good work he did on this contract and his willingness to also step up and become a Shop Steward,” IBEW 1837 Assistant Business Manager Tom Ryan said. “It’s a good first agreement for these workers, especially since they will be getting the terms and conditions of the large PSNH contract.”

There are currently three Building Mechanics at PSNH. They are responsible for the maintenance, repair and installation of building and mechanical systems including plumbing, heating, electrical work, HVAC, and building controls throughout the company’s service area. The Building Attendant has a wide range of responsibilities including the design, moving and installation of furniture and office systems, as well as other duties.

“We’re pretty excited to align ourselves with IBEW and start to enjoy the benefits that our co-workers share,” Eaton said after the initial National Labor Relations Board vote last June to be represented by the Union. “It’ll be good to have the security of being part of the large bargaining unit.”

“Winning the vote to join the Union is a big first step, but the challenge of securing a first contract can be even more difficult,” IBEW 1837 Organizer Matthew Beck said. “I’m sure all of our members will join me in congratulating them on this great accomplishment.”

“Working with the guys at the Union made it easy for us,” continued Eaton. “It was smooth, easy, and everybody on both sides was very cordial.”

A Bargaining Update From The Manchester Newspaper Guild With The UNION LEADER

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The Manchester Newspaper Guild is in a bitter labor dispute with the NH Union Leader.  The MNG is fighting just to keep workers from being pushed even further down by their employer.  Union Leader employees have already given back thousands in concessions over the past few years, yet the Union Leader wants more.

The MNG meet with representatives of the Union Leader for the seventh time to continue their negotiations.  After the bargaining session was completed, the MNG  posted a message of how the bargaining process went.

It’s obvious that discussion at the table is not moving the company thus far. The bargaining committee believes that it will take increased member mobilization to change that.

The MNG talked about a few of the issues that are holding up any agreement.

–On outside activities, the Guild has proposed eliminating the restriction that members may not work for a competitor. The rationale is that givebacks our members have made have significantly hurt their financial situation, and they should be allowed to use their skills anywhere to supplement their income.

 –The company wants to eliminate the step increases in wages detailed in Article 2, as well as the limit on inexperienced employees, contending they don’t plan on hiring anyone in the future who would require being paid less than top scale due to their experience.

 –The company said it wishes to eliminate smoking based on concerns that a purchaser of the building or a new landlord should operations move would make the current smoking language difficult to implement.”

The NH Labor News will continue to keep you informed about future negotiations and ways you can show your support for the Manchester Newspaper Guild.  Be sure to check out their new website “Where Is The Fairness – Union Leader (WTF-UL.org)” and sign their online petition.

 

Workers At The Union Leader Deserve A Fair Contract

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Every worker deserves a voice in the workplace, even if your voice is your workplace.  Over the last few years workers from the NH Union Leader have continued to be pushed down by their employer.  Workers have fought through contract disputes that forced workers to lose pay and increase their cost for benefits.

Now the NH Union Leader want the Manchester Newspaper Guild (CWA-TNG) to accept even more cuts to their already plummeting pay.

Members of the Guild, which represents employees in the accounting, advertising, circulation, data processing and news departments, have done more than their share of sacrificing to help the Union Leader Corp. through tough times, and are frustrated that company management has not shared equally in that sacrifice. (WFT-UL.com)

The NH Union Leader does not seem to care about the workers or their families.  In the video below you will hear from Matt McSorley, a copy editor at the NH Union Leader.   Matt and his wife are raising four children, and all he wants is a fair contract. A contract that benefits the company, and the workers.

(Video from the MNG picket)

That is not what the NH Union Leader is proposing right now.  They are offering to slash workers pay by over 20%, while increasing their healthcare contributions.  This is assuming that they are one of the lucky workers who are not going to be laid off entirely.

It would be fairer if everyone had to take massive pay cuts like these workers.  That would make this bitter pill a little easier to swallow.  That is not the case at the NH Union Leader, management continues to get bonuses and pay raises.

In 2010 and 2011, upper management was treated to base pay raises, with the company’s two officials receiving pay raises of roughly 2 percent each year, before accepting about a 4 percent cut in 2012. Over the 2009-2012 period, the top official received almost $12,000 more in base pay than if his pay had remained at the 2009 rate.” (MNG-NHLN)

When will the NH Union Leader wake up and see that without the dedicated staff from the Newspaper Guild, they would not be able to fill their newspaper with stories.  The workers have given back nearly $30,000 over the last few years and now the NH Union Leader wants more.

Enough is enough!  Workers deserve a fair contract!

Follow the NH Labor News and WTF-UL.COM for updates on the contract dispute.

New AFL-CIO Report Focuses On The Struggles Of Latino Americans After The Great Recession

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A new report released in honor of Labor Day by the AFL-CIO shows that four years after the Great Recession officially ended, Latino working families continue to be disproportionally affected by the weak economic recovery. Across the country, Latino workers are struggling with higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, lower wages, and a dire financial outlook for retirement.

The report titled “The elusive American Dream: Lower wages, high unemployment and an uncertain retirement for Latinos,” compiles economic data  relevant to Latinos from several recent Economic Policy Institute (EPI) studies to show that unemployment and underemployment rates were higher, wages were lower and financial security for seniors was lower among Latino and African American workers. These reports offer both macro- and micro-level solutions to these inequalities.

According to data compiled in this report, the nationwide unemployment rate for Latinos continues to be higher than for whites and is projected to remain “essentially” the same at the end of this year. Furthermore, an August economic snapshot found that among employed Latinos and African-Americans, roughly one in five are underemployed.

Lower wages continue to hold back Latino working families. Between 2007 and 2012, both Latino and Latina full-time workers – defined as those working 35 or more hours per week – earned less in wages than their white and African American counterparts.

Additionally, Latinos and African Americans are more likely than whites to spend retirement mired in poverty, a June EPI report found. 70.1 percent of Latinos, age 65 and older, have incomes less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold. In comparison, only 43.8 percent of whites are economically vulnerable.

“Latino workers have been especially hard hit by the economic crisis.  It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Kelly Ross, Deputy Director for Policy at the AFL-CIO. “Low wages and economic inequality are the result of deliberate policy decisions that can and must be changed.  Increasing wages and reducing inequality is not only a matter of fairness and justice, it is also urgently necessarily if we want to fix what is wrong with our economy.”

The report concludes with several solutions for policy makers to increase jobs and address these problems such as creating large public infrastructure projects, adopting expansionary fiscal policies, passing legislation to increase the federal minimum wage and minimum wage of tipped workers, raising labor standards, reestablishing the right to collective bargaining, and providing a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented workers.

“This report confirms the unfortunate reality that many Latino workers are struggling to provide even the most basic needs to their families,” said Ana Avendaño, AFL-CIO Assistant to the President and Director of Immigration and Community Action. “This is wrong. Latinos work hard every day to build this nation. Let’s honor Labor Day by advocating for policies that will allow them to reach the American Dream.”

View the entire report here.

Workers At Orlando Health Hospitals Are Not Backing Down, Nor Should They

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The struggle between Orlando Health and its employees has really started to make waves.

There has been mainstream media coverage, here and here.

Read the NH Labor News articles on the situation, here and here.

Just so we are all on the same page, let’s recap.  The CEO of Orlando Health, Sherrie Satirik, says the hospitals are loosing money and they need to save over $18 million a year.  To make these saving a reality, the CEO and Executive board have decided to cut all night and weekend differentials from their workers.  This is going to cost workers between $7,000 and $15,000 a year.

Let’s not forget that the that Orlando Region Medical Center (a part of Orlando Health) is home to John Hillenmeyer, ranked as one of the top 25 highest paid non-profit hospital CEOs in the country.  Add into the fact that executives at Orlando Health pocketed $10.3 million in compensation last year.

It sure seems like they could make a few revisions to their executive compensation package, and that would help to balance their budget a little.

As of now over 4,000 people have signed a petition started by a RN at Winnie Parker Hospital asking Orlando Health to reconsider cutting the workers’ differentials.

It appears they are getting noticed.  The CEO of Orlando Health, Sherrie Sitarik, announced that Orlando Health would be delaying the forced pay cuts for one month.   Despite the delay, a spokesperson for Orlando Health said the decision to make the cuts is final: “that cannot be changed.”

JAMASitarik also warned that if the workers really wanted to keep these differentials, that Orlando Health would be “forced” to make another round of layoffs – of more than 300 employees.   Fewer nurses means higher nurse-to-patient ratios, lower quality-of-care, and higher mortality rates.  (Read the JAMA article “Hospital Nurse Staffing and Patient Mortality, Nurse Burnout, and Job Dissatisfaction” here.)

Some are wondering if the corporation had planned to lay off more workers even before they announced the pay cuts.  On August 2nd. the Orlando Health spokesperson told WFTV:

“Efficiency enhancements, expense reduction, restructuring processes, and reorganization of staff, are expected as part of this ongoing process.”

 This was days before Orlando Health announced they would be cutting workers’ pay.

National Nurses United has offered assistance to the workers – and it looks like they may need the outside help.

Eilynn Mcgowan, a RN from an Orlando Health hospital, told me “there are many people behind the scenes offering support but are afraid to step forward.” They are afraid they will lose their jobs if they speak out.  While Mcgowan is also worried about losing her job, she said “At some point people need to stop being afraid because that is what they (Orlando Health) want.  I refuse to back down to them.”

Mcgowan – like other Orlando Health nurses and staff – is angry that these cuts are coming after employees worked so hard to get MAGNET Hospital status.  Mcgowan said a lot of the MAGNET status accreditation comes from nurse’s satisfaction.

“A Magnet hospital is stated to be one where nursing delivers excellent patient outcomes, where nurses have a high level of job satisfaction, and where there is a low staff nurse turnover rate and appropriate grievance resolution. Magnet status is also said to indicate nursing involvement in data collection and decision-making in patient care delivery. The idea is that Magnet nursing leaders value staff nurses, involve them in shaping research-based nursing practice, and encourage and reward them for advancing in nursing practice. Magnet hospitals are supposed to have open communication between nurses and other members of the health care team, and an appropriate personnel mix to attain the best patient outcomes and staff work environment.” (1)

Arnold Palmer Hospital was recognized as a MAGNET hospital in 2013.  It’s not that many months later.  How can these hospitals say they are “listening to their staff” while they arbitrarily cut pay and lay off workers?

Being a MAGNET hospital means a lot to workers and to patients.

An October 2011 study by Linda Aiken and colleagues found that Magnet hospitals “have better work environments, a more highly educated nursing workforce, superior nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, and higher nurse satisfaction than non- Magnet hospitals.” (2)

Click here for more information on why hospitals and staff push for magnet status.

There is another reason that Orlando Health and Arnold Palmer Hospital pushed for MAGNET status. Like everything else in the corporate world it all boils down to money.  MAGNET Hospitals become a part of the pay for performance system.

“Medicare will launch the hospital VBP program, in which pay-for-performance programs will receive incentives for demonstrated excellence and improvements in patient safety and effective care.” (3)

This means that MAGNET hospitals get more money in reimbursement and extra incentives.

Eilynn Mcgowan told me the she firmly believed that “Orlando Health must have been planning these cuts before they received their MAGNET status”.   Hindsight is always 20/20.  Corporate executives don’t make decisions like this overnight.  She is obviously correct.

In November of 2012 the Orlando Sentinel reported:

“In the largest staff reduction in its nearly 100-year history, Orlando Health is cutting up to 400 jobs starting immediately, hospital system officials announced Monday.  The move is part of a broader effort to position the hospital system for the health-care overhaul, CEO Sherrie Sitarik said.

The elimination of jobs will occur in two phases and represents a 2 percent to 3 percent reduction in the system’s 16,000-person work force, said Orlando Health spokeswoman Kena Lewis. The cuts affect all departments and all eight of the system’s hospitals, including Orlando Regional Medical Center and Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, two of the system’s better-known facilities.”  (Emphasis added)

The second phase of those cuts were announced on August 2nd of this year.

This whole thing sounds fishy.  They laid off hundreds of workers, while pushing the staff to tell the accreditation team that they were happy and respected in their jobs, all to get MAGNET status.  Then after they get MAGNET status, they stick it to the workers with more layoffs and pay cuts.

It makes you wonder: what would these workers say now, if they were asked those same questions today?

The workers at Orlando Health hospitals are not taking this laying down.  They started a petition and are quickly organizing to form a solid negotiating team to fight back against these cuts.  Even if you do not work for Orlando Health – if you support these hard working people, start by signing their petition.

Orlando Health, Balancing Bad Financing On The Backs Of Workers

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Stop and think for a moment: who do you consider to be the hardest working people in any industry? I bet nurses are somewhere in your top five.  Nurses have a long and distinguished history of being hard working and caring individuals, who help people who cannot help themselves.

This is why I am disgusted at the actions being taken by the Orlando Health system.  Orlando Health is a non-profit hospital system in central Florida.  They are about to impose drastic pay cuts on these hard-working men and women.  I should say women and a few men.  Women make up over 90% of all registered nurses in the United States.  Another staggering fact is that the average age of a registered nurse is 46.  How many of them are mothers or grandmothers?

I know all about the work that these women do.  My mother was a registered nurse for nearly 40 years before she was forced into an early retirement due to chronic back problems.

Here is my problem with Orlando Health.  They are imposing drastic changes to the pay by cutting night and weekend differentials.  According to Sarah Collins a registered nurse at Winnie Parker Hospital for Women and Babies this means a loss of $600 per month, or $7000-$15,000 annually.

Why?  Why the drastic cuts to workers’ pay?  It’s not to increase their profit margins – this is supposedly a non-profit organization.  So where is all the money going? 

First: To the corporate executives.

The Orlando Business Journal reported:

“Becker’s Hospital Review’s list of top paid executives for non-profit health systems has two Central Florida names on the list. … John Hillenmeyer, former CEO of Orlando Regional Medical Center, made $1.25 million in 2010.”

According to Orlando Health’s latest Form 990,

  • Hillenmayer received more than $2.2 million in compensation in 2011; and
  • Orlando Health has 19 different Vice Presidents – including six who each received more than a half-million in compensation in 2011;
  • Orlando Health spent more than $10.3 million on compensation for “key” executives.

Second:  Into building projects.

Orlando Health is spending $297 million on renovation and expansion projects at the very same time they can’t seem to find the money to pay the nurses who actually take care of their patients.

To add insult to injury, these drastic cuts come after Orlando Health chopped hundreds of jobs last November.  Other workers had their hours reduced, during that round of cutbacks.

And now people are waiting over two hours in the emergency room.

If you are as outraged at these cuts as I am, then take one minute and sign Sarah’s petition.

On the petition site, Sarah says that Orlando Health refuses to negotiate with the staff.

Being a son of a union nurse, I know that at times efforts to negotiate can be very one-sided.  In my mother’s case, it wasn’t until the entire nursing staff and support staff walked out that the hospital really started to listen.  But when the hospital was nearly forced to close their doors due to a lack of staff, suddenly they wanted to talk.

Unfortunately, these workers at Orlando Health do not have any union representation – but even without a union, a collective voice will not be ignored.  Please take a minute and sign Sarah’s petition.

I think some union elections will be in their near future!

UPDATED 8-16-13

Read the response to this petition from CEO and President Sherrie Sitarik that was posted for all employees on the Orlando Health website.

UPDATED 8-17-13

National Nurses United a union that represents thousands of hospital staff workers throughout the country has sent a letter to inform everyone of their rights to organize a union.  Since the letter was not given to the NHLN you must read it on the Orlando Business Journal.

The union wants to help, and they can help.  Know your rights!

The letter begins…..

Dear Orlando Health RNs and other Health Care Providers:

Here are answers to your requests for information about your efforts to protect yourselves from pay cuts and other reductions in your working conditions. If you find this helpful, feel free to forward this message to others. You may contact NNOC-Florida at florida@nnoc.net.

Workers Unite As NH House Kills Two Anti-Worker Bills

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Yesterday was a big day in the NH House for NH workers. Since the session began I have been watching a number of bills and their progress through the Legislature.

The first bill is SB 100 (NHLN post). This bill would remove the option to have a paper check printed and in turn give you a debit card that would automatically refill with your paycheck every two weeks.

Kevin Langridgan reported from the State House yesterday:

“Rep. Timothy Smith, D-Manchester, said these payroll cards are a hidden scam for low-wage workers, who can face hidden fees of up to $40 per transaction.

“This bill is pretty offensive,” Smith said. “This is one of the newer scams that have been pushed on our hard-working citizens, and it has taken the form of a payroll card.”

This bill was immediately shot down yesterday by the NH House (235-93), and rightfully so. Forcing employees to get a debit card that comes with automatic fees for withdrawal is absolutely wrong.

After the vote, Zandra Rice-Hawkins from Granite State Progress had this to say:

“SB 100 would have been purposefully harmful to employees, creating additional fees and expenses for them to collect and use their paycheck, and specifically avoiding sharing that information upfront,” Rice Hawkins said. “Granite State Progress is proud of the House members who stood strong to protect workers and small businesses in our state.”

The second bill I have been watching is SB 153. This is a sneaky bill that would allow the budget oversight committee to either approve or deny any union contract with state employees. This was an attempt by the Senate President to insert the legislature into the collective bargaining process.

State Rep. Linda DiSilvestro (D-Manchester) said, “the proposed committee will politicize the negotiation process.”

Many of the anti-union republicans tried to push for this bill. They want to have more control over the process.

The Senate passed the bill along party lines, the House outright rejected it 191-135.

Once again the NH House has taken a stance that collective bargaining has it place in New Hampshire. Workers rights and pay were protected. I am very proud of my State today.