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Joyce Endee

Town considers whether to contest new union

June 03, 2009
MEREDITH — More details about the approved union between the Public Works and Water and Sewer Departments emerged as the town considers whether to contest the union's approval.

The New Hampshire Public Employees Labor Relations Board approved the proposal for a collective bargaining unit between the departments in May. The petition to form a collective bargaining unit was made by the State Employees International Union, Local 1984. The union is a first for Meredith's town government and will include 28 employees from both departments.

"The petition is supported by enough authorization cards to establish that a majority of the employees in the approved bargaining unit have selected the petitioner to serve as their exclusive bargaining representative under RSA 273-A," wrote the PELRB in its decision.

The Town of Meredith, however, may contest the PELRB's decision, according to Interim Town Manager Brenda Vittner.

"We have 30 days to appeal," said Vittner. "It hasn't been decided yet, but we can appeal the decision of the board."

Vittner did note that the decision did not surprise her.

The SEIU Local 1984 sought to form a union between employees at the Public Works Department and the Water and Sewer Department. Though the town raised no objection to the formation of the union, it took issue with the melding together of town departments and with some employees who might be considered to have supervisory powers in the unit.

The PELRB had to decide whether the community of interest between the two departments was strong enough for the employees to form a combined collective bargaining unit.

The PELRB used RSA 273-A:8, I in making the decision to approve the collective bargaining unit. The RSA deals with the "community of interest," which is exhibited by employees with the same conditions of employment, a history of "workable and acceptable" collective negotiations, those in the same historic craft or profession, and employees in the same organizational unit. Other factors can include common work rules, personnel practices, salary and fringe benefit structures, and "the self-felt community of interest among employees."

The Town of Meredith argued that there was no community of interest, since Public Works and Water and Sewer employees worked in different departments, under different department heads, with separate budgets, and different work locations and responsibilities. The town did acknowledge that some towns do choose to place their Water and Sewer Department functions within their Public Works Departments.

In its briefing on the decision, the PELRB noted that the two departments are not so large, nor do they function independently enough to have nothing in common. The board noted that they also work together on capital improvement projects, share the same work environment and conditions, and may be subject to the same supervision. They also use many of the same pieces of equipment and have similar work rules and personnel practices.

The board found little evidence of a "self-felt community of interest," and noted that all Meredith town employees are subject to the same personnel policy, classification, and pay plan.

The board compared the situation to a similar case between the Rochester Public Works and the City of Rochester. Employees within Rochester Public Works with diverse positions "similar to those under consideration in this case," had applied to form a collective bargaining unit.

"As was true in Rochester, there is currently a diversity among PWD employees, reflected in the fact that they are organized into four different divisions, have different responsibilities, and some have different physical locations," wrote the board. "Including WSD employees in the same bargaining unit as these PWD employees would not fundamentally alter the nature of the diversity that already exists among PWD employees. There is a familiarity among the employees based upon this common work effort and, at times, similar working environments and conditions, even though organizationally the employees are in different departments. The record in this case is sufficient to establish a community of interest within the meaning of RSA 273-A:8, I and Pub 302.02 and to justify the placement of WSD employees in the same bargaining unit as PWD employees."

The board determined that Assistant Public Works Director Al Bolduc exercised "supervisory authority" with significant discretion, meaning that he would be excluded from the union. The board also excluded Public Works Director Mike Faller, Water and Sewer Superintendent Brian Carroll, the GIS operator, and the finance director.

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