IBEW Workers at PSNH Approve Contract

June 14, 2010 - IBEW members at Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) have ratified a three-year Generation Contract and a Utility Contract after five days of voting that included polling places in Randolph, Keene, Laconia, Hooksett and Dover. Final approval of the deal on June 14 followed an unprecedented 20 bargaining sessions that began in early March, in what the head of the Union Negotiating Team termed “a difficult negotiation.”

The agreement includes a 3% wage increase in each of the three years with the contract running until June 1, 2013. Although the health plan cost share for employee coverage will remain at 10%, the cost for dependent coverage will increase to 25% on January 1, 2011. Even with the higher dependent coverage costs for some PSNH workers, an analysis by the Union Negotiating Team indicates that all IBEW members at PSNH will still enjoy some increase in their take-home pay.

“Things had been moving very slowly since the Company had put proposals on the table that we couldn’t work with, including some that would have destroyed seniority rights for union members,” said IBEW Assistant Business Manager Tom Ryan, leader of the Union Negotiating Team. “PSNH also wanted to be able to change company policies unilaterally if they weren’t explicitly covered by our union contract.”

Brother Ryan and the Union Negotiating Team sought to break the logjam by clearing up some longstanding disputes between IBEW and PSNH, and in the process, hopefully improving the chances for reaching an agreement before the contract ran out.

One and a half years ago, the Union filed Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) Charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) because of the Company’s implementation of Northeast Utilities Policies (NUPS) without negotiating with the Union. The NLRB determined that the Company had violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and was going to issue a complaint against them. More recently, the Union had filed a ULP charge with the NLRB because of the removal and censorship of information on our bulletin boards.

In an effort to move the negotiations in a positive direction, the Union proposed to settle the charges. We proposed that we would withdraw the charges and request that the NLRB dismiss them under the condition that the illegal aspects of the NUPS be negotiated with the Union and corrected, and that the Company withdraw several of their more objectionable proposals. These were the proposals that attacked seniority issues such as job posting and bidding, preferential hiring rights for Union members, and even more importantly, the Company’s proposal that would permit it to unilaterally issue, change or delete policies affecting the terms and conditions of employment for PSNH workers without first negotiating those changes.

Negotiators for PSNH agreed to IBEW’s settlement proposal on May 20, and the result was a positive change in the direction and momentum of the remaining bargaining sessions.

In addition to the wage and health care cost-sharing changes in the new contract, changes were also made in the multi-skilled worker program specification sheet for Newington  Station. Changes were also made impacting working hours for shift workers at Newington Station that will reduce the income of our members These changes will all expire with this contract or sooner.

Although it was not technically a Company proposal or part of the contract bargaining, the Company read an announcement across the table on May 12 that could have profound implications not only for our members, but for all customers of the Company who experience storm-related power outages.

“The Company is discontinuing any work schedule practice associated with storm response where employees are scheduled for less than eight hours off between shifts. As of June 1, employees will receive at least eight hours off between shifts and will return to work at straight time or their normal contractual rate.”

This announcement is likely to have an impact on some of our members that goes well beyond the financial hit on their pocketbooks. Although the Union Negotiating Team initially made a proposal to try to lessen that impact, it was rejected by the Company. A subsequent counterproposal from PSNH fell short of what the Union thought was acceptable.

“We’re concerned about some of the issues and difficulties our members may be facing as a result of this policy shift on paying double time during storm restoration,” Brother Ryan said, “ and we expect that we will have some hard work ahead of us because of them.”

The policy change could also have profound implications for PSNH customers, who may experience even greater delays in power restoration after a major storm. As recently as February of this year, roughly one-third of New Hampshire or 330,000 residents were plunged into darkness for several days after a major storm, leading Governor John Lynch to declare a state of emergency. Most of those homes and businesses affected were customers of PSNH.

IBEW members at PSNH have expressed their gratitude to members of our Union Negotiating Team for their hard work during this series of contract negotiations. In addition to Tom Ryan and Sue Ekola from our New Hampshire IBEW office, please join us in thanking team members Jerry Bolduc, Mark Christopherson, Barry Crawford, Mark Easter, Steve Eldredge, Kerry Guptill, Jim Hale, Tracy Houghton, Justin Jesseman, Becky Johnson, Dave Ouellette, Pam Paquette, Ralph Richardson, Dan Roy, Rick Simons and Bill Tarallo for their dedication to our Union.

Special thanks to Edith Tucker for the use of the photo accompanying this story.