“Rebuffed and ignored”: Three unions file labor complaints against KSC

Tom Benoit

Three Keene State College unions jointly filed an unfair labor practice complaint after attempts to discuss pay raises and bonuses for new hires were rebuffed or ignored for four months, according to a public notice posted in the student center. 

KSC’s administrative staff association, college staff association and directors and supervisors association filed a complaint late last month with the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB), which oversees the process of collective bargaining — negotiations of conditions of employment — for public employees and unfair labor practice proceedings. 

According to the complaint, the college violated various state laws governing public employees. The complaint states that the college excluded introductory employees from a negotiated pay increase and bonus and from bargaining units. The complaint also states the college provided incorrect and misleading information about their rights to join unions and ignored and invalidated provisions of the collective bargaining agreement relating to introductory employees. 

New hires at the college serve a six-month introductory period “to provide the time needed to do a concentrated evaluation of the new employee’s performance and to determine if the individual is able to meet the job requirements,” the collective bargaining agreement, or the contract between the union and the college, states.
The complaint explains that in June 2020, the college and associations were in negotiations for new agreements, during which the college informed the unions that KSC planned to stop recognizing introductory hires as represented bargaining unit employees. The associations informed the college that not recognizing these employees was not something they could simply announce, but must be agreed upon in negotiations and codified in the collective bargaining agreements. 

Alternatively, KSC could petition PELRB to modify the bargaining units to exclude them. The college’s negotiator said nothing further about the proposed change, according to the complaint. 

The complaint goes on to say that as negotiations continued, the college never made a proposal to change the parts of the agreements that address introductory employees and the language governing employees in the introductory periods remained the same. 

The parties commenced negotiations for a second set of new agreements in 2021 to go into effect on July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2025. The language in the 2022-25 agreement surrounding introductory employees remained the same as in the previous agreement. During these negotiations, the college did not make any proposals to modify or eliminate the agreement provisions that govern the “employment, rights, compensation, or benefits of introductory employees.” 

This agreement — which was ratified in June of this year — provided pay raises and bonus payments for all bargaining unit employees, including introductory hires. However, KSC determined not to give introductory employees the contractual pay increase or bonuses, according to the complaint. 

The associations only learned about the determination when a few new employees notified their unions after contracts went into effect in July. 

The associations notified KSC President Melinda Treadwell and the college’s negotiator that introductory employees had been denied pay raises and bonuses on July 21, 2022, the document states. 

“In response, the College raised for a second time its assertion that employees in their Introductory Periods were not represented members of the bargaining units and were therefore not entitled to the negotiated pay increases or bonus payments that went into effect on July 1, 2022,” the complaint says. 

Later, on July 25, the associations learned that the college’s director of human resources sent individual contract letters to new hires stating their positions were represented by the associations and that they were eligible for all fringe benefits available within the association. 

The document cites one email, sent to new hires in the administrative staff association unit, stating that following the six-month introductory period, the employee will become a part of the association. A similar email was sent to new hires within the KSC staff association unit saying new hires will become members of the association following the end of the introductory period, the document states. 

The complaint says that a few days later, the associations informed the college’s negotiator that the language in the letters was confusing regarding union membership, arguing that new hires could think they were automatically enrolled as union members following this period. 

The associations assert union membership is not automatic, as employees have to fill out a membership form, and that the college did not respond to this critique. The associations also said that the college did not explain details surrounding union or unit membership, benefits, agreement provision and links to agreements that were sent by the college to new hires in contract letters. 

The associations state that they made various attempts to discuss the issue of pay increases and bonuses for these new hires with college officials in July, August, September and October 2022. The complaint says that these attempts were either rebuffed or ignored, necessitating the filing of the complaint. 

The complaint requests that the PELRB find that the college and the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) violated various sections of RSA 273-A:5, order the college and USNH to cease and desist from the violations and “make the Associations and impacted employees whole by granting any other remedy as appropriate.” 

PELRB will hold a hearing about the complaint on January 18, 2023 at 8:30 a.m. in Concord.

Tom Benoit can be contacted at

tbenoit@kscequinox.com

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