Should NH change the laws governing public employee collective bargaining?
By: LFDA Editor
Some lawmakers think that public employee unions have too much power over the government when it comes time for contract negotiations. Over the years the legislature has considered several ways to shift the balance of power in collective bargaining for public employees.
Adding legislative oversight
Some lawmakers support a measure that would give the legislature the power to veto any collective bargaining agreement entered into by the state.
Supporters argue that legislative oversight would give the public a voice in contract negotiations.
Opponents of legislative oversight argue that it will simply slow down already lengthy and complex contract negotiations. Gov. Hassan's 2013 public employee contract negotiations took almost a year.
Eliminating the “evergreen clause”
In 2011 the state legislature passed SB1, which eliminated the clause from public contracts.
An "evergreen clause" in public employee contracts allows provisions of an expired contract to continue while contracts are being negotiated. Those provisions can include wage step increases, cost of living allowances, etc.
Critics of SB1 said the state should not be involved in negotiations between towns and their public employee unions.
Those who favored the bill said it would help eliminate expenses that cities and towns were otherwise forced to accept without approval.
Making public workers “at-will” employees
In 2011 the legislature also looked at a proposal that would make public workers “at-will” employees if their contracts expire without any kind of renewal.
The measure was added as an amendment to the state budget by the House Finance Committee. The amendment stated that after a contract expires, public workers “shall become at-will employees whose salaries, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment shall be at the discretion of the employer.”
The sponsor of the measure, Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare), said the legislation would motivate public employee unions to settle contracts quickly and affordably, or else give their employers the power to set wages and benefits.
Opponents of the measure argued that it gave too much power to employers, and might even create an incentive for employers to reject contract renewals.
The Senate Finance Committee ultimately removed the “at-will” proposal from the budget. Committee Chairman Chuck Morse said that policy committees can decide on union issues, while the budget panel will stick to budget items.
The large unfunded liability in the New Hampshire Retirement System may affect future benefits for public employees. Click here to see the LFDA issue page on Retirement Benefits.
New Hampshire has also debated becoming a Right-to-Work state, which would affect public employee unions. Click here to see the LFDA issue page on Right-to-Work.
Rep. Charles Weed (D-Keene) is sponsoring HB 1228, a 2014 bill establishing a commission to study if different public employee collective bargaining procedures should be used for different categories of public employees.
Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth) is sponsoring SB 398, a 2014 bill that requires the state to negotiate with each bargaining unit separately, rather than with a committee with representatives from multiple bargaining units.
Both bills are in committee.
In 2013 the House killed SB 153, a bill that would require legislative approval of any collective bargaining agreement entered into by the state. In 2012 then-Gov. John Lynch vetoed a similar bill, HB 1666.
In 2011 the legislature passed SB1, which eliminated the “evergreen clause” clause from public contracts. The bill became law without the signature of then-Gov. John Lynch.