Thousands of people rallied at the N.H. State House in Concord on Thursday, March 31, after the budget bill, HB 2, passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
According to HB 2, the bill is “relative to state fees, funds, revenues, and expenditures,” for the fiscal years starting July 1, 2011 and July 1, 2012. Protesters at the State House spoke out against budget cuts, ranging from less funding for the arts to a cut in mental health funding.
An amendment to the budget bill concerning unions’ rights could end public employees’ rights to collectively bargain, making them employees at will.
Keene Representative and adjunct professor at Keene State College, Cynthia Chase, said Democrats are accusing Republicans of bringing in proposals “in the dark of night.”
“After all of the press had gone home except for one and everybody was finishing up,” Chase said Rep. Neal Kurk, a N.H. republican from Weare, “comes in with this amendment that he wants added to the bill.” Chase said the amendment stated, “That when contracts of public employees end, they become employees at will.”
Chase said an employee at will “can be fired for any or no reason at all.”
Chase was inside the State House in Concord while thousands rallied for their rights in an attempt to change the minds of those in favor of the union amendment and the 2012-2013 budget cuts.
“I could hear you guys out there,” Chase said. “A couple of times I couldn’t stand it, I wanted so much to be down there.”
Among those yelling was a Corporal at the N.H. State Prison for Men in Concord and a member of the New Hampshire Police Benevolence Association (NHPBA), Sharon Cerretani. “This bill means that I very well may become an employee at will and they can fire me for any reason,” Cerretani said. “I will have to pay more into my retirement and I’ll have to pay more for my insurance.”
N.H. union workers are feeling the sting of “broken promises” as their right to collectively bargain is on the line. “When I do retire in four years, I may not get the health benefits that they promised me when I started working here,” Cerretani said.
Member of the State Employees International Union (SEIU), Danny Caudle, a Systems Development Specialist at the State House Annex said, “I will not be able to retire when I am 60, as promised of course in my initial hiring.”
Caudle said, “This bill means less money in my pocket and a lack of funding for critical services for the state of New Hampshire.”
Caudle was strongly opposed to the “de-funding of mental health care” as one of the state budget cuts. “We are going to rob an entire generation of the chance and the opportunity that we have right now,” Caudle said.
Amy Vangundy, special education case manager at a Claremont school and a member of the New Hampshire Teachers Union, said the cuts to mental health funding cause a lack of clarity in the futures for her and her students.
“It will affect any kind of retirement I have, how the system around me runs, and how it works on helping our kids that are they’re with us because they are like family,” Vangundy said.
Rep. Chase said college professors who have tenure could be at risk of losing that stability benefit.
Being an adjunct professor at KSC, Chase said she is already an employee at will, but if the collective bargaining amendment passes, tenure-track professors at KSC, “have the potential to lose their health care benefits and their retirement benefits.”
At KSC, Chase said tenure track professors are currently in negotiations because their contract runs out on June 30. “The proposal takes affect July 1, which leaves April, May, and June for KSC professors to negotiate a contract,” Chase said. “If the powers want to do things the teachers don’t like, and the union says no, as of the first of July [union workers] become employees at will.”
“This is a control issue,” Chase said. Supporters of the bill think “workers have too many rights” and more power needs to be given to administrators. Chase said this is Rep. Kurk’s idea of “leveling the playing field.”
Chase said if unions were no longer allowed their current existing right to collectively bargain, “the chances are pretty good that these people will fall into the lower class.”
Jordan Cuddemi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org