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Posts Tagged ‘public sector workers’

Senate Budget Vote 6-6-13 012

Voting strictly along party lines, the GOP controlled New Hampshire Senate today voted 13 to 11 to reject the expansion of Medicaid under the terms of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  The vote sets up a conflict in a House-Senate Committee of Conference that could start as early as next wSenate Budget Vote 6-6-13 030eek.   

Expanded Medicaid would provide insurance coverage to an estimated 58,000 New Hampshire residents, paid for 100% by federal dollars for the first three years.  

The Senate also approved a budget that makes $50 million in unspecified personnel cuts that could lead to hundreds of layoffs.   This, too, could be altered by the conference committee.  

On their way into today’s session, the Senators had to wade through dozens of pro-worker and pro-Medicaid activists to get into their chamber.  NH Voices for Health, which brings togSenate Budget Vote 6-6-13 001ether health care providers and advocates, has been working hard to rally support for expanded Medicaid.  The State Employees  Association will lead efforts to stop the personnel cuts, which would not only hurt workers and their families but also reduce the quality of services offered to state residents.

The effort will escalate over the next few weeks as Representatives and Senators continue the budget debate, perhaps right up to the June 30 end of the fiscal year.   

 

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manchester 9-22-12 class size matters

Overcrowded Classrooms Threaten Education System

Teacher layoffs that have caused the number of students to swell above 40 in some high school classrooms sparked a “Save Our Schools” rally that brought about 250 people to Manchester’s Veterans Park for a rally this afternoon.

The school system in the New Hampshire’s largest city started the year with 150 fewer faculty members than the year before, a cut of 12%. 

Luke Hayward, a first-year student at Central High School, one of 4 public high schools in the city, said his Spanish and English classes each have about 37 students.  The state’s standard for high schools is no more than 30.  Luke’s friend Andrew said his Algebra 1 class has 42 students. 

In some overcrowded classes students are using clipboards for want of sufficient desks.

“It’s hard to get the teacher’s attention,” Hayward said, noting teachers have trouble controlling classes when there are so many students in the room.

Neither student had ever been to a rally before.

manchester 9-22-12 Tom O Speaking from the Veterans Park stage, Tom O’Connell of Citizens for Manchester Schools, put the blame squarely on the city’s political leadership.  “The fundamental problem is insufficient funding,” he said.  “We spend less per kid than any other town,” he added.

That was an exaggeration, but only very slight. One town, Hudson, spends less. Manchester is 269th out of 270 school districts in per-student spending

The Queen City spends $9826 per student, 23% below the state average of $12,775.

Ron Kew, who served as a teacher and principal in the city before the threat of layoff forced him to look elsewheremanchester 9-22-12 crowd for a job, said “Every year teachers are cut, which means education for children is diminished.”  Kew, now a principal in Brentwood, accused  Manchester officials of “educational malpractice” and led the crowd in chants of “malpractice.” 

Speakers at the Save Our Schools rally, organized by Citizens for Manchester Schools, united in statements that teachers deserve no blame for the fiscal situation which led the Board of Alderman to approve a school budget $8 million below the figure the Superintendent said was needed. 

Jerome Duval, a former city official said “we need to invest in city-provided services.”

“Don’t allow your appeal to our city fathers for smaller class sizmanchester 9-22-12 Sarah robyes be dismissed,” he said.

Sarai Roby was the one student who spoke from the stage.  “Everybody I know complains about their class size,” said the Central High School junior in brief and well delivered remarks.  “Thankfully, there’s enough desks for everybody,” she said, but noted that in one classroom her seat is broken and “stabs me in the back.”

No one at the rally would argue with the notion that a desk for every student is a rather low standard.  

City leaders should “get out from behind the excuses to fix the problem,” O’Connell charged.  “It comes back to political action.”  Almost on cue, Maggie Hassan, the Democratic candidate for Governor, appeared in the park, followed soon after by Carol Shea-Porter, Democratic candidate for Congress.  Neither spoke from the stage, but both manchester 9-22-12 SOS rallyshook lots of hands. 

The crowd included plenty of teachers and students, at least one active principal and the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Thomas Brennan.  Brennan plans to leave his post at the end of the school year.

Nationwide, 75% of public school teachers are female; I expect Manchester’s statistics are in the same ballpark. Sarai Roby was the only woman who appeared on the stage.  For that matter, she was also the sole student and the only person of color. Citizens for Manchester Schools would benefit from a more inclusive approach if it is going to build a strong enough movement to rock the city’s power structure. 

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Yesterday Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien accused unionized postal workers (or what he called “union thugs” in a Facebook post) of messing with his mail delivery out of political spite. 

Today, the Speaker received his mail right on schedule, delivered by Ron Pritchard, President of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 72.  

aug 15 2012 002

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Workers – and their allies – are getting ready to fight back

The 2012 session of the New Hampshire legislature, known formally at “the General Court,” began yesterday with debates over usury (they are for it) and guns (they’re for those, too, also crossbows).  Today they resumed with debate over HB 383, a bill to weaken the organized force of state employees by barring union contracts that require non-members to pay an “agency fee.”  As several speakers noted, this is essentially the same argument that went on all last year over Right-to-Work-for-Less, a debate that finally ended November 30 when the Speaker end the war on public servants of the House failed to get the two-thirds majority he needed to over-ride the governor’s veto of HB 474.   

Today’s vote was 212 to 128 in favor of HB 383.  While the 84 vote margin might look like a lot, it is 15 votes short of the magic two-thirds needed by anti-union legislators to over-ride another expected veto.  Of course, 60 members were absent, but labor activists have a pretty good idea which side they are on, and they are feeling reasonably confident this proposal can be stopped.

But they better be prepared for an onslaught of new legislation to destroy collective bargaining, privatize services, weaken safety programs, and even take away the right to a lunch break. 

The intent of some bills is obvious in their titles:

HB 1645, “prohibiting all public employees from participating in collective bargaining,”

HB 1189, establishing a committee to study the privatizing of county corrections operations,” and

HB 1206, “prohibiting the state from withholding union dues from the wages of state employees.”

For others, one needs to read the bills to understand their intent:

HB 1163, “relavigil 3-31 batch 2 027tive to the withholding union dues from wages,” the purpose of which is to “prohibit employers from withholding union dues from employees’ wages.”

HB 1513, “changing the membership of the public employee labor relations board.”  This one states that the 5-member PELRB would consist only of people who “own or shall have previously owned a business in New Hampshire, and that “no person who is currently, or was previously, employed by the federal government or a state or municipal government shall be a member of the board.”

Then there’s HB 1574, “relative to an employee’s lunch or eating period.”  This bill “repeals the requirement that an employer grant an employee a ½ hour lunch or eating period after 5 consecutive hours of work.”

We will need spirit and fortitude to make it through the session.  That’s why it’s a good thing that an alliance between faith leaders and the labor movement is growing stronger.  In fact, there will be an Interfaith Service for Economic Justice next Thursday, January 12, at 4 PM, at St. Paul’s Church in Concord.  The featured speaker will be the Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry, former president of the United Church of Christ and now the Policy Director at the Washington office of Interfaith Worker Justice.   

Public hearings have not yet been scheduled for most of these bills. 

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The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the world, runs 66 facilities in 19 states and Washington DC. They took in $1.7 Billion in 2010.  They spend millions of dollars a year on lobbying for more contracts. This year their books will show the expense of four lobbyists representing their interests at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire.

While “Occupy New Hampshire” members are occupied with decisions about manchester 10-17-11 007 where to pitch their tents, big money corporations are working behind the scenes to take over state agencies and services. Today is the third meeting of a legislative study committee whose purpose is to develop a plan for privatizing the Department of Corrections. Under the direction of the governor, the Department is also preparing Requests for Proposals for construction and operation of new prisons. CCA wants a piece of the action.

The state’s Medicaid program, which has been run directly by the Department of Health and Human Services, is about to be outsourced to private insurance companies.

Another study committee is looking into collective bargaining for public employees, and based on the voting records of the committee members, strengthening workers’ rights is not on their agenda. In fact, one of the study committee members is sponsoring a bill whose title, “Prohibiting all public employees from participating in collective bargaining,” leaves little doubt where he stands.

While I understand the difficulty the “Occupy” movement has in reaching agreements on unified demands, I hope members will join efforts to keep New Hampshire from being occupied by those following the corporate agenda of privatization, de-regulation, and the disempowerment of workers.

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9-15-11 005

Will Committee Propose Minor Changes to Existing Law or End of Public Worker Unions? 

It’s no secret that the tea-crazed element in the Republic Party is out to destroy unions, and with their disappearance further depress wages and benefits for workers across the labor market. With manufacturing unions in a weakened state due to globalization and technological changes, anti-union attention has shifted to the public sector.

Given the political context, New Hampshire labor activists and allies looked with apprehension on the creation of a committee made up of State Representatives and Senators to “study collective bargaining by public employees.” The committee’s mandate, established by passage of HB 580, gave the committee no more guidance than contained in those six words.

Sen. Raymond White said creation of the study committee was “an offshoot of all9-15-11 004 the discussions around pension reform.” While HB 580 did begin as a bill to overhaul the pension system, the context was actually much wider and more ominous. White may have forgotten that the House budget plan included a measure, introduced by Rep. Neal Kurk, that would turn all public sector workers into “at will” employees at the expiration of collective bargaining agreements. And HB 580 itself, also sponsored by Rep. Kurk, included the following provision in the version approved in the House:

Following the end of the term of a collective bargaining agreement and during any period of negotiation, the status quo shall be maintained as to the wages, hours, and conditions of employment of employees in good standing. Except where required by statute, the continuation, after the expiration of the agreement, of the provision of any medical, dental, and life insurance benefits, retirement or pension benefits, and any other fringe benefits, shall be subject to the exclusive authority of the public employer.  [emphasis added]

In other words, the clear intent of the House was to strip unions of their power. The Senate, no hotbed of pro-labor sentiment, kept this radical approach out of the budget and pension bills. Instead of just killing HB 580, which would have been a desirable outcome, the Senate proposed the study committee as an alternative. .

Following the study committee’s first meeting September 15, it seems that this group is out to tinker with collective bargaining, not destroy it. The bigger assault depends on whether the legislature over-turns or sustains Gov. Lynch’s veto of HB 474, the Right-to-Work (FOR LESS) bill, and in an array of bills to be considered next year.

The study committee began its work by electing Rep. Gary Daniels, the ant-union head of the House Labor Committee, to be its Chairman, and Rep. John O’Connor to be its Clerk. Daniels made it clear that their scope is only the state and local public sector, for which the collective bargaining process is set out under RSA 273-A. (That public employee collective bargaining is governed under state law, not federal, appeared to be news to Rep. Steven Winter, a former airline pilots’ union member who voted for “Right to Work.”)

David Lang of the International Association of Firefighters explained that the current system could be improved. In particular, the lack of dispute resolution methods in the law can make it hard to complete complex negotiations in a system where contracts not only have to be approved by union members and municipal officials, but also funded by votes of school districts and town meetings. Nothing that his own union, in Hampton, has been without a contract for six years, he said, “There has to be an end in sight.”

Unions are not just about pay and benefits, Lang testified. The issue the promoted unionization of Hampton firefighters, he said, was the quality of protective clothing. The union contract made it more likely that firefighters would return home alive after work. Acknowledging the sensitivities of taxpayers – a group that includes union workers – Lang said it’s “important for workers to have an understanding of what the pay and benefits are going to be” in order for cities and towns to attract workers to serve as police officers or firefighters.

Mark MacKenzie, who now serves as president of the NH AFL-CIO, was a Manchester firefighter when the law covering public sector collective bargaining was established. It was through collective bargaining, he said, that firefighters were able to improve their gear and training. Union contracts are not responsible for the rising cost of health care, he said.

Other speakers included Laura Haney of the NH Federation of Teachers; Diana9-15-11 006 Lacey, Jay Ward, and Dick de Seve of the State Employees Union; and Dean Michener of the School Administrators Association. In the back-and-forth between committee members and speakers, attention kept returning to whether negotiating sessions should be videotaped and broadcast on public access cable TV.

If the committee keeps its attention on minor matters, the committee report, due Dec.1, might be of relatively little consequence. It’s still possible that Kurk-like proposals will be put on the agenda.  We’ll get more indications at the committee’s next meeting, Thursday, September 29, at 9 AM. Rep. Daniels said there would be other opportunities for members of the public to present testimony before the committee winds up its work in November.

Regardless of this study’s outcome, attention should be focused on the 2012 legislative session, for which 794 bills have been proposed by House members. At this time, the details of these bills are still being worked out, so all we can see are their titles. But these include such gems as:

“Prohibiting all public employees from participating in collective bargaining,” “Requiring 100% consensus vote by union members to be included in a collective bargaining agreement,” and “Prohibiting the state from withholding the union dues of state employees.”

The war on the workers goes on.

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