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November 19. 2013 8:12PM

State workers get raises in new contract

CONCORD — The state workers' largest union approved a new contract that gives members their first pay raise since 2009, but also would have them pay their first health care deductible.

Over the last two weeks, 80 percent of the State Employees Association members who voted said they favor the new contract, which took more than 10 months to negotiate.

"It took a lot of work to get here, but the members have spoken and are now ready to move forward," said Diana Lacey, SEA president.

State workers will receive a 6.12 percent pay increase over the life of the contract, which ends July 1, 2015.

Workers will receive a $300 payment in their next paycheck in lieu of retroactive pay from July 1, and a 1.5 percent increase in salary in their next paycheck.

State workers will also receive a 2.25 percent increase beginning July 1, 2014, and another 2.25 percent increase beginning Jan. 1, 2015.

State workers will have to pay a health care deductible of $500 for an individual and $750 for a family, but will receive up to $300 in each year of the contract in wellness incentives that can be used toward the deductible.

More than 36 percent of the bargaining unit's members participated in the vote; the tally was 1,574 in favor and 385 opposed.

"I am pleased that SEA members have ratified this agreement that provides the first cost-of-living increase in five years to our hard-working state employees while securing important health care savings for the state," Gov. Maggie Hassan said. "I thank SEA members and leadership, as well as state negotiators, for working in good faith to reach a deal that's fair to all parties."

State and union negotiators reached a tentative agreement in June, but the SEA Bargaining Senate rejected the proposal. The two sides failed to reach an agreement, went through mediation and then entered fact-finding before reaching a tentative agreement at the end of October.

The main sticking point has been health care costs, as some lower pay grade state workers complained the health deductibles were more than they would receive in pay increases.

"The SEA team knew about the state's history of over-projecting health care cost inflation during contract negotiations. They knew that employees had been a big part of achieving millions of dollars in annual health care savings — surplus money — that kept going back to state agencies to balance the budget," said Lacey. "They were sure that out-of-pocket costs for employees were going to far exceed worker raises. So they got innovative and collaborated with the state to create an agreement that was fair for everyone."

The contract provides financial incentives for activities such as an annual physical, blood pressure checks and flu shots.

Employees are also rewarded for using lower cost services through Anthem's Site of Service centers. The state's Compass SmartShopper program continues, which gives employees a rebate for using low-cost providers.

The state self-insures its health insurance program, which is administered by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Provisions of the new contract will be acted on by the Executive Council today and by the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee Friday.

Three other unions ratified their contracts with the state earlier this year, including the New England Police Benevolent Association, the Teamsters and the New Hampshire Troopers Association.

grayno@unionleader.com


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