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NHLN Exclusive: AFT-NH Takes Pittsfield ‘FREE SPEECH’ Case To The NH PELRB And WINS!

 Pittsfield Town Employees’ Statement on PELRB Decision 

Pittsfield, NH- In a statement released today, Richard Walter, President of the Pittsfield Town Employees, AFT-NH, AFT Local #6214 reacted to today’s decision by the NH Public Employee Labor Relations Board on Unfair Labor Practice Charges filed against the Town last spring.

Mr. Walter stated, “Our members stood together to stand up for important rights to be heard about their working conditions which affect public services.  We are extremely pleased with the decision of the PELRB. I am proud of the commitment to fairness and public service our members have shown throughout this long, grueling process. Our members care deeply about the services they provide to the residents of Pittsfield and the attempts to prohibit our speech was harmful to the public discourse which must occur in our communities as we determine the quality and level of services we provide.  We look forward to building a positive working relationship with the Board of Selectmen as we move forward and some positive changes have already occurred. ”

The charges alleged that the Board of Selectmen had violated RSA 273-A, the NH Public Employee Labor Relations Act and breached the collective bargaining agreement between the parties when it issued a directive denying overtime and details to full-time bargaining unit members in the first instance.

The charges also alleged an infringement of the employee’s rights to speak to the public about their conditions of employment.  Additional charges were made by the Union that the Selectmen had improperly changed the schedules of the police and ambulance departments. The Union prevailed on the charges regarding free speech of its’ members under the public employee labor relations act, overtime and details. Back pay provisions regarding detail and overtime have been awarded to make the employees whole for the denial of working these details and being denied overtime shifts. The Board ruled with the Town on the issue of the schedules; however, since the original charges were filed, the schedules have reverted to those in place prior to the filing of the charges.

In its’ decision, the NH PELRB upheld the rights of local union members to speak freely in public about matters relating to their terms and conditions of employment and stated that, “the Board committed an unfair labor practice when it issued a policy prohibiting employees from communicating with the public and media without prior approval from the Board of Selectmen.”  The Board of Selectmen had passed a gag order, only to later rescind it.  Union members provided testimony to the Labor Board that they felt intimidated by the actions of the Board of Selectmen.

“AFT-NH is committed to protecting the free speech of our members and we will vigorously defend their rights” stated Attorney Terri Donovan of AFT-NH, who represented the local Union.

She stated further, “The employees in Pittsfield negotiated a contract with a pay freeze and increased contribution to health insurance and the actions by the Board of Selectmen not to honor the provisions of the contract and long standing practices were egregious violations of good faith negotiations.”

Mr. Walter stated, “While I am very pleased with the result it is unfortunate that during the course of this litigation we have lost at least two long term and valuable employees from our bargaining unit. The Town invests in training employees and when you lose veteran employees, the Town loses valuable experience and knowledge for the citizens of Pittsfield.”

“AFT-NH is the State Affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT has over one million members with nearly 4,000 members in New Hampshire. AFT-NH represents the Pittsfield Town Employees, AFT Local #6214.

Read the full NH PLRB decision here.

NHLN Exclusive: Pittsfield Board Of Selectman Trample Labor Rights Of Town Employees

In Pittsfield, town employees have been under assault since the new Board of Selectmen was sworn into office in March. This small group of employees represented by two unions, Teamsters and AFT-NH are defending their collective bargaining rights in multiple cases filed with the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board. The Teamsters Local #633 represents the police patrolman and AFT-NH represents a variety of town employees. As you may recall this is the same Board of Selectmen that thought it acceptable to issue a gag order on the free speech rights of public employees back in April and they finally rescinded the order after much public outcry.

The Concord Monitor reported last week that “The state labor relations board ruled the town of Pittsfield violated a contract with police officers by refusing to assign private details, one of several complaints town employees have against selectmen.

In a ruling issued on last Thursday, Douglas Ingersoll, Executive Director of the labor board, ordered the town to resume assigning detail work and reimburse officers for earnings they lost this year so far.”

This a big win for the patrol officers and Teamsters in the town. What is amazing that even though the Board of Selectmen has yet to acknowledge the upside for the taxpayers of Pittsfield. By refusing private details the town is losing thousands of dollars in absolutely free money.

“In 2011, the town received $80,000 in payments from private details, $47,000 of that going to the officers or to cover administrative costs of arranging the detail. The rest was revenue for the town.”

Just to make sure we are all on the same page. A private company like, PSNH or Fairpoint hires a police officer through the town.  Then the company pays the town, the cost of the officer and an additional amount that goes directly to the town’s bank account. For every detail the Pittsfield officer works, he gets extra money, and the town gets free money. It is a total win-win.  I don’t know why the selectmen would not be encouraging more details. As of today, the Town has yet to comply with the cease and desist order issued by the labor board and no details are being offered to the patrol officers.

That is not the only case against the Pittsfield Board of Selectmen.

AFT-NH, representing Pittsfield’s ambulance department employees, town workers, and police sergeants, filed another unfair labor practice in May alleging the town violated employees’ free speech rights, denial of details, unilateral change in schedule, bad faith bargaining and contractual rights to overtime. No decision by the PELRB has been issued yet.

AFT-NH informed the NH Labor News that there are three additional Unfair Labor Practices that have been filed as recently as yesterday. One ULP alleges another violation of the contract is that the Town has unilaterally decided employees can longer swap shifts, which has not cost to the Town. The second ULP defends the Police Chief, also a member of AFT-NH, against a verbal warning and unilateral changes to his schedule. The discipline was issued since the Board of Selectmen have been insistent he conduct an investigation into his police officers based on anonymous complaints of when and how the police officers had lunch breaks during the Pittsfield Balloon Rally., He concluded they performed their duties in accordance with their contract. The Selectmen are not happy with the answer and he was issued a verbal warning.

One case was heard last week. The main issue in that case is that the EMT’s allege that the selectmen are violating the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) by requiring a doctor’s note for missed work after one day.  AFT-NH filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) on behalf of the employees. The current CBA says that employees do not have to supply a doctor’s note’ until after the fifth day.

The fact that their rights are being trampled by the town selectman was taken to heart by one EMT, Alyssa MacGlashing.  She felt so strongly about this ULP and her rights under the CBA that she came out to testify last Thursday.  Not only did she testify she brought her two week old baby with her.  That’s right, only two weeks after have a child she was before the PELRB defending her rights.

“It is the dedication from members like Alyssa, who are willing to appear and testify before the labor board just two weeks after having a baby. She knows she is defending the principles of fair play and honoring a collective bargaining agreement; this is just one of the many reasons I truly love my job and have a great respect for our members,” said Terri Donovan, legal counsel for AFT-NH.

Donovan did want to note that the town employees in Pittsfield are residents and taxpayers too and as such negotiated a recent contract that included no pay raises, no steps and increased contribution to health insurance.

“Our members stepped up to the plate and they have been slapped in the face by this Board of Selectmen,” stated Attorney Donovan.

Pittsfield EMT Alyssa MacGlashing

 

AFT-NH Statement on the Reversal of the Pittsfield “Gag Order” on Public Employees

American Federation of Teachers-NH
“Union of Professionals”

AFT-NH Statement on the Reversal of the Pittsfield “Gag Order” on Public Employees

Bow, NH- In a statement released today, American Federation of Teachers-NH President Laura Hainey reacted to the news that on Friday evening the Pittsfield Board of Selectmen rescinded their April 10th gag order on public employees’ free speech in their town. Ms. Hainey states, “The April 10th policy passed unanimously by the Board of Selectmen was an illegal intrusion on the free speech of public employees. The Board took the correct action by reversing their written policy.”

The policy passed by the Board of Selectmen on April 10th, stated that in part “It is therefore incumbent upon all employees to view all of their communication, written or otherwise, as being available for public viewing.” The policy further stated that “any communication that is anticipated to be shared with media outlets (video, audio, written)” should be reviewed by the board of selectmen.”

Ms. Hainey states that “What is most disturbing is that since Town meeting when the Board of Selectmen have been wrestling with $125,000 budget cuts initiated by Linda Small, serious issues of public safety have been discussed in Town. Since this Board’s first meeting they have sought to limit public employees participating in these very important discussions. The public is served when those providing vital public services can offer their perspective on proposed changes.”

“AFT-NH is committed to protecting the free speech of our members and we will vigorously defend their rights and take the necessary legal action if the Pittsfield Board of Selectmen seeks to limit these rights as protected by law. We want our members to fully engage in the public discourse about how services are provided to the citizens of Pittsfield without fear of retribution. We believe the citizens of Pittsfield benefit from their experience and knowledge of what is necessary to get the job done. Why would a Board want to silence them?”

Attorney Terri Donovan, Director of Field Services and Collective Bargaining for AFT-NH states that “While we believe it was right to rescind this policy, we are concerned that the Board tried to explain away what they had said and done for the last few weeks. We already have contractual and other possible violations which may have occurred. The fact they stated they will be going back to the table to work on a new policy causes us serious concern. Only time will tell if they will truly respect the rights of their employees but we are cynical based on their attempts to explain away their illegal policy. Ms. Hainey stated that, “AFT-NH will remain vigilant in advocating for quality public services and the free speech of our members.”

“AFT-NH is the State Affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT has over one million members with nearly 4,000 members here in New Hampshire.   These members are teachers, school support staff, police, higher education faculty and town employees. AFT-NH is a member of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO which represents over 45,000 working men and women.” AFT-NH represents the Pittsfield Town Employees, AFT Local #6214.

UPDATED: Gagging Public Employees in Pittsfield: What Are They Hiding?

I just heard of a very disturbing policies in the town of Pittsfield NH.   This new policy was passed on April 10th refers to communications from employees of the town.  This policy has huge and significant impacts and are  restrictions to the basic freedoms of employees of the town.  Mainly their Freedom Of Speech!

The freedom of speech is what allow me to write this and you to read it.  Freedom of speech is what allows Rush Limbaugh to make a fool of himself on the radio.  Freedom of speech is top of the list of our freedoms.

This policy basically states that ALL communications (Video, Written, or Audio) be reviewed by the board of selectmen prior to release where anyone in the public could view it. Thats right if you are employed by the Town of Pittsfield you “SHALL” submit anything you write/video/record for review prior to any type of public release.

The policy states that the selectmen must first review any “communication that is anticipated to be shared with media outlets (video, audio, written).” If the full board is not available, Small would serve as its designee to review the information.
“We are the representatives of the town, we are the public officials in town, we are the authority in town,” Small said. “And therefore we find it our responsibility to make sure that the town is being properly represented (1).”

So basically what she is saying is that anyone who works for the town is a representative of the town and anything they say is equivalent to a official statement from the town.  I wonder if they considered all the ramifications of this policy before they created it.  The first problem with this was raised by the police Chief Robert Wharem.

“Wharem said he is unable to speak to the media, including in an emergency situation. Wharem said he is now required to notify the selectmen before speaking to a reporter on any subject, and had received no direction on handling communications during emergencies. “

So even in his official capacity as Chief, he cannot speak to the media.  But the next problem is that this policy means town employees cannot talk to the media in any capacity. Pittsfield fire Chief Gary Johnson said he was “awaiting clarification” on who and when he can speak.

The real outrage is that this policy is loosely related to a letter to the editor from the Pittsfield Firefighters Association that was printed in the Concord Monitor.  The letter talks of cuts in the fire fighters budget. (LTE: Pittsfield Budget Endangers Safety.) Selectwoman Linda Small replied with this:

“I don’t think that the public forum is a place for the employees that are paid by the taxpayers of Pittsfield to be informing their opinion,” Small said. 

It also appears that I am not the only one to notice that Small is taking aim at the Firefighters Associations freedom of speech.  The Monitor published this article: In Pittsfield, mum’s the word | Concord Monitor:

“Airing out such disputes is a classic role for the Monitor’s news and opinion pages. The selectmen certainly haven’t cornered the market on facts or opinions, even regarding the Pittsfield town budget. Surely residents would benefit from as much information – and opinion – as possible. Rather than gagging their employees, perhaps the selectmen might want to respond directly to the firefighters’ gripes. There’s plenty of room in our pages for that. (2)” 

So this means that Joe the firefighter from Pittsfield can no longer call into a local radio program and say that he is against the New Hampshire Retirement System changes.  He cannot write into a local newspaper and tell everyone why he is against Right To Work in NH.

I wonder if they considered the “Social Media” in this policy? Does this policy mean that Joe can no longer make posts to facebook or  twitter.  Does this mean that he cannot record his daughters birthday party and post that video on YouTube? Does this also mean he cannot comment on this blog post? Accord to the policy the answer to all of this is YES!

UPDATED 4/21/12
Pittsfield Town Rescinds Gag Order!!!
Pittsfield: Selectmen take back gag order | Concord Monitor: “At a special meeting last night, Selectwoman Linda Small read a statement saying the policy was intended “to avoid potentially harmful misinterpretations and misunderstandings within the community.

“However, because it has stimulated more hardship than solution, the board has called a special meeting . . . to rescind the policy that has not yet been officially executed,” Small said.”


See also: Pittsfield can’t squelch free speech from the Concord Monitor on 4/19/12

Quotes taken from:
1) http://www.concordmonitor.com/article/324239/union-objects-to-selectmens-rule-on-staff-overtime 
2) http://www.concordmonitor.com/blogentry/324328/in-pittsfield-mums-the-word

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