- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 16, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - As New Hampshire budget writers start making key decisions on a state spending plan, state employees and the governor’s office remain stalled in negotiations over wages and benefits.

Of the unions that represent more than 10,000 employees, two are in mediation with the state after declaring an impasse in March. The state’s largest union, meanwhile, has filed an unfair labor practices complaint, alleging Gov. Chris Sununu’s office is bending the standard negotiating rules. The Public Employee Labor Relations Board has yet to make a decision.

THE DISPUTE

Negotiations between the various unions that represent state workers and representatives for Sununu began in December, with discussions of wages, health care and other benefits on the table. Sununu included about $31 million in his budget to cover an already negotiated two percent pay raise that started in 2017 and rising health care and prescription drug costs, said Matt Newland, manager of employee relations for the state.

Union representatives wanted to discuss further wage increases, something the state didn’t want to put on the table. In March, the Teamsters Local 633, which represents corrections workers, and the state troopers union both declared an impasse.

That prompted Sununu’s office to halt negotiations with everyone, even though the State Employees Association, the largest union, wanted to remain at the table. When Sununu’s office wouldn’t agree, the union filed an unfair labor practices complaint. Negotiations with that union are stalled until a decision is made.

Rich Gulla, president of the state employees union, criticized the process used by the governor’s office, saying the unions have been allowed to negotiate separately in the past.

“It certainly doesn’t build goodwill for the 10,000 state employees that have dedicated their lives to state services,” he said. “The budget process is rolling along at the Statehouse and we’re not having a conversation.”

The teamsters and the troopers, meanwhile, are now in mediation with the state.

THE BUDGET

Without an agreed upon contract, budget writers have little to work with as they craft the next two-year state spending plan. The Senate Finance Committee is making final decisions this week on a plan to send to the Senate floor.

Republican Sen. Gary Daniels, the committee chair, said raises for state employees haven’t even been part of the discussion.

“We can’t really address it because no agreement has been made,” he said.

Even if a contract were negotiated, lawmakers have the ultimate say over whether to approve it. In 2015, lawmakers initially refused to fund the 2 percent raise negotiated by the unions and former Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. The raises were used as a bargaining chip after Hassan vetoed the budget and lawmakers eventually approved them.

But with no contract in place and other budget priorities, Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro said further raises seem unlikely, at this point.

“I don’t see where we have the money,” he said.

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