(originally published in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)
On Wednesday, March 30, I ventured to Concord to observe the debate on the much publicized NH House Finance Committee’s action to add an amendment to the State Budget that would make all state and municipals employees “at will” employees if their collective bargaining contract expired and no new contract was in place. As I approached the rear of the State House, a paper notice had been taped to the door stating that the entrance was restricted to “Legislators and Staff Only”. The only public access was at the front of the State House and was being protected by more than a half a dozen armed state police officers. In the Hall of Flags there stood more armed state police officers standing watch over a hundred or more uniformed firemen. As I made my way to the House Gallery to witness the debate, I passed others who lined the hallways who were holding placards angrily denouncing the actions of the Finance Committee to take away their collective bargaining rights.
The amendment states: “For any collective bargaining agreement entered into by the parties after the effective date of this paragraph, if the impasse is not resolved at the time of the expiration of the parties’ agreement, the terms of the collective bargaining agreement shall cease and all employees subject to the agreement shall become at-will employees whose salaries, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment shall be at the discretion of the employer.” The amendment is very clear and some would argue is necessary to move the parties from an impasse to a resolution while others would argue the amendment sends an unsettling message to individuals governed by collective bargaining agreements. No one would argue this would not be considered a major policy change as it affects all unionized NH teachers, police, firemen and state employees, and the many municipalities that have collective bargaining agreements.
The problem? This major policy change received no noticed public hearing. The amendment was introduced at the end of the day after the press and public had left the Finance Committee room. It was voted on and passed by a majority of Republicans on the Finance Committee. Such a major policy change deserves and demands a proper public notice and hearing by the policy (Labor) committee. To add this amendment to the back of the budget dismantles the rights of both the supporters and opponents of this policy change.
In the ten years I served in the Legislature, I have never witnessed signs on any door restricting public access to the State House – after all this is the “Peoples House”. Perhaps, if the Republican majority had referred the collective bargaining amendment to the policy committee for a noticed public hearing, the State House would not have been turned into an armed camp.
Whether you support unions or not, in my opinion, this amendment does nothing to improve the relationship between the state/municipality and public employees. The amendment if anything creates more uncertainty. Our public employees are not the enemy. They are our teachers, police officers, firemen, court employees and highway workers. If we are going to attract the best people to these public service jobs, they need to know that changes to their collective bargaining will not be added as a simple footnote to the back of the state budget at the end of the day.