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Town appeals Public Works/Water and Sewer union

July 08, 2009
MEREDITH — Interim Town Manager Brenda Vittner confirmed last week that the Town of Meredith is moving forward in its intention to appeal the formation of a union between the Public Works and Water and Sewer Departments.

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 27 employees from both departments, if the union composition is upheld.

Selectman Chair Peter Brothers said that the selectmen had not made a public announcement on the status of the union petition because it was a litigation matter. Though the appeal will go back to the PELRB, Brothers did not rule out the possibility that it could "potentially go from there" to a court decision.

"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 Vittner.

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

The SEIU 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 their 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 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.

In Meredith's case, 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.

Also not joining the union is Bob Hill, former water superintendent and Water Department operations manager, who resigned from his position in May. Hill had been placed on paid administrative leave by the town for over six months, since December of 2008.

Hill was in charge of the department during the water emergency of 2007, when he told the town that water from the plant was being drawn off in the summer faster than the plant could treat more, even while running at full capacity. As investigations went on, problems with the plant's operation were discovered, and Hill was later demoted.

After his demotion, Jay Ward, SEIU political organizer, confirmed that Hill was one of the first to bring forth the idea of organizing the town's employees into a bargaining unit.

Varney Smith
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