Union Contract Approved on Split Town Council Vote

The members of the collective bargaining unit for the Derry Professional, Administrative and Technical Employees (PATE) will have their first contract since 2011 after a split Town Council vote Tuesday, Feb. 18.

The contract was first presented to the Council on Feb. 4 and was scheduled to be voted on Feb. 18. Though a winter storm cancelled events in other towns, the Town Council met along with several town employees and a scattering of the public.

Acting Town Administrator and Human Resources Director Larry Budreau presented the contract to the Council. Budreau said PATE represents 29 technical and management employees throughout the town, including police, fire, public works and administrative personnel. Budreau said the proposed contract encompassed more than 40 changes, including:

• General wage increases of 1.5 percent, FY 2015; 2 percent, FY 2016; and 2 percent, FY 2017. In addition, they will see a 2.5 percent increase effective on signing the new contract.

• An increase in their contribution to conventional health care premiums, from 14.5 percent to 18 percent in March 2014, 19 percent in July 2014 and 20 percent in July 2015.

• Health insurance caps are eliminated.

• Fully paid health insurance for up to four years of disability has been reduced to up to three years.

• Length of service for new employees to receive fully paid Medicare supplemental insurance upon retirement increased from 10 to 20 years of service, with the town’s cost frozen at the current premium amount.

• For new employees, the maximum annual Earned Time accrual was reduced to 36 days and a maximum total accrual was reduced to 60 days.

“Someone asked me, ‘Is this contract good for the town of Derry?’” Budreau told the Council. He said it was, noting that many of the employees covered by this union are second-level management and pivotal to town operations.

He said the members of this union were among five unions working without contracts. Budreau said of the town’s 230 full-time employees, 220 were members of seven different collective bargaining units, and five of those units were working without a contract. “There is nothing good about this situation,” he said.

Budreau said the proposed PATE contract was endorsed by himself, Fire Chief George Klauber, Police Chief Edward Garone, Chief Financial Officer Frank Childs and Public Works Director Michael Fowler.

According to Budreau, the Council should approve the contract for three reasons: the negotiating team bargained in good faith according to RSA 273:A-3; the employees, at $28 million a year, are the town’s most valuable asset, “and we should manage them properly;” and “it’s a smart deal for Derry.

Budreau said the employees had made concessions to come to this point. “You never get everything you want, and the unions never get everything they want,” he said. He touted the employees’ experience, noting that they have a total of 478 years of service to Derry.

In a PowerPoint presentation, Budreau lamented the length of time it has taken to come to this agreement. He noted that the Teamsters contract, another collective bargaining unit, was negotiated 2 1/2 months after it expired, with only six meetings. “That is the model,” Budreau said.

He also pointed out that prolonged negotiation was costing the town money. With 91 minimum two-hour meetings and three six-hour meetings, he calculated that 11,500 person-hours had been spent negotiating contracts.

In addition, Budreau said this contract was in line with the Town Council goals for contracts because it aligns increases in personnel costs with increases in revenue and removed the tax cap.

The “earned time” provision “sticks in a lot of people’s craws,” Budreau admitted, but the negotiating team did reduce the maximum for both annual and total leave.

He urged the Council to pass the contract, saying, “Many of these are second-level management. They are movers and shakers in this town.”

The contract would add $40,000 more to town budgets each year, Budreau said.

Councilor Neil Wetherbee moved that the Council approve the agreement. But Councilor Mark Osborne asked that the approval be postponed to the next Council meeting.

“Larry gave us a deliberative and informative presentation,” Osborne said. “I’d like to have additional time to weigh it against my own concerns.”

Osborne also said he had asked constituents to share their concerns on the agreement, and he wanted them to have a chance to weigh in. “This is not the easiest thing to digest when you’re home watching the meeting on television,” Osborne said.

Osborne and Councilor Al Dimmock voted to postpone the vote, while Chairman Michael Fairbanks and Councilors Brad Benson, Wetherbee and Phyllis Katsakiores voted to go ahead with it.

Osborne then raised a “charter objection” to proceeding with the vote. “Some of us are going to be challenged on our views,” Osborne said. “The Town Council rules provide for us to have a balanced debate.” At 9:30 p.m., that wasn’t possible, he said.

“Is this discussion really open to the public?” Osborne asked.

Wetherbee read from the Town Charter rule 5.9. “Any item once postponed can’t be postponed again by a charter objection,” Wetherbee said. He said the PATE contract had already been postponed from the Feb. 4 meeting.

Fairbanks agreed with Wetherbee.

But Osborne said, “A charter objection should not be used more than once for one particular item. A charter objection has never been used to postpone this item.”

Budreau said it was “critical” to examine the first sentence. In his interpretation, he said, “You can only make a charter objection the first time an item is brought before you.”

Dimmock said, “This is the first time charter objection has been used in connection with this. It should stand.”

Dimmock further asked Katsakiores if she should recuse herself from the vote because she has a relative in that collective bargaining unit. But Fairbanks stopped that discussion, noting that it is up to a Councilor if he or she wants to recuse themselves.

The vote on Osborne’s appeal of the decision to vote was split at 3-2, with Osborne and Dimmock voting in the affirmative and Benson, Wetherbee and Katsakiores voting against it. Fairbanks abstained.

Fairbanks’ wife Janet, speaking from the audience, also questioned whether Katsakiores should vote on the contract. Fairbanks told her, “I can’t tell someone not to vote,” and Wetherbee said, “You should get the meeting under control and stop talking to your wife.”

Katsakiores abstained from the contract vote, and the final tally was 3-2, with Benson, Wetherbee and Fairbanks in the affirmative and Dimmock and Osborne voting against it.

The contract issue resurfaced later in the meeting, with Janet Fairbanks and resident Hal Schnitzlein suggesting that Budreau would profit from the contract. Budreau said he would not personally benefit from the agreement.

Wetherbee objected to the accusations, saying, “This is disparaging to our town employees.”

Resident Marc Flattes observed that he would like to have seen the public have more input on the contract. Fairbanks reminded him and the television audience that a session was offered last fall to receive input on collective bargaining.