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Contract negotiations start with NH state workers

Norma Love, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Negotiations have started on a new contract with the union representing most of New Hampshire's 11,000 state workers.

State Employees' Association President Diana Lacey said Wednesday that wages will be among the chief topics under discussion since state workers have not had a general pay increase since January 2009. She said step increases also were frozen in 2011 for a year as part of a deal to save the state $50 million.

Lacey said state workers don't live in a bubble and have the same financial issues stemming from the recession as other working families in the state.

"People lost homes, vehicles," she said. "That's obviously a major concern with people — the ability to make a living."

Lacey said health care also will be discussed, especially in relation to any potential opportunities from the federal health care reform law.

Marc Goldberg, spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan, said the governor wants a fair compensation package that recognizes workers' contributions "while also recognizing the fiscal constraints the state continues to face as we recover from the recession."

Lacey said she hopes attention will be paid to the growing number of workers approaching retirement age who will take years of institutional knowledge with them if no transition is developed to train new people. She said she hopes the state will realize there is a negative impact of using part-time workers or contracting privately for services, especially on the state retirement system. Part-time workers don't pay into the system, which is about 56 percent funded.

The current state budget required former Gov. John Lynch to save $50 million in labor costs. He negotiated contracts with the state's three labor unions to avoid laying off 500 workers. The contracts contained no raises and increased workers' share of health care costs.

In 2009, lawmakers approved a budget that also required Lynch to cut labor costs by $25 million. Lynch proposed a furlough plan to minimize layoffs, but the union rejected it and roughly 200 people lost their jobs.

Talks on the new contract with the SEA started last week. The contract expires June 30.