Boycott blowback finds locals unsupportive of state union
April 01, 2011LITTLETON- The State Employees Association (SEA) union is experiencing blowback from its recent boycott of a dozen Littleton businesses that supported the proposed town budget, and called for the elimination of labor, as locals distance themselves from the union.
It was only last week that an SEA boycott of 12 local businesses became known in Littleton. The union called for the boycott as a response to what they saw as political positioning on the parts of these business owners to put their own profit above public safety, as the lower budget would most likely call for the elimination of employees in the police, fire, and highway departments.
Monday, Police Chief Paul Smith issued a press release on behalf of the department – which includes eight members of the SEA – stating the boycotting of businesses is not supported by himself, or the supervisory and administrative staffs. The boycott goes against the Littleton Police Department's mission to "provide responsive, competent, and professional law enforcement service in partnership with our community," and "affects the efficient manner in which the police department operates," read the statement.
"We recognize that such a boycott erodes public confidence in the department and directly affects the ability for members of the police department to effectively communicate in a positive manner with the citizens that we are sworn to protect and serve," it said. "The Littleton Police Department will always remain committed to community service and protection regardless of any economic or financial challenge it is presented with."
Local police officers were not the only ones to express concern. Last week, three local union members who work in the Littleton branch of the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security – including Selectman Mike Gilman – sent letters of resignation from the union. Gilman, David Ezyk, and Ralph Hodgman were all members of the local Chapter 1984.
"Based on the arbitrary decisions and behavior of our state organization I cannot in good conscience remain a member of an organization that places a priority on a national agenda and pursues a campaign of meddling in local affairs," read Gilman's letter.
"I find it deplorable that I am forced to pay a portion of my salary as a condition of employment to an organization that spat in the face of small town, American businesses…" read Ezyk's letter, while Hodgman wrote, "I will not be a member of an Anti-American organization such as yours that would deliberately attempt to shut down good neighborhood businesses by boycotting them because they used their rights as American citizens to vote their beliefs in a perfectly legal manner."
The letters come less than a week after an SEA newsletter announcing the boycott of businesses across Littleton that had supported the proposed budget became known around town. In the union's eyes, the businesses listed supported the lowering of taxes for their own profit over public safety for all.
"As an organization, we strongly support job creation and of course we want to see businesses succeed," read a follow-up statement released by the SEA Friday. "However, when businesses organize to lobby residents to drastically cut public safety services, under the threat of raising rents and prices for their products and services, we must consider the dangerous implications to families that is being advocated for in place of slightly less profit margins."
The budget amendment, proposed by Brien Ward at the deliberative session in February, called for the elimination of three police officers, four firefighters, one highway department employee, and three town office employees. Eventually, one police officer, two firefighters, three highway department employees, one transfer station employee, the tax collector, and the town manager were eliminated. The SEA specifically cited flyers sent out by Landlord Herb Lahout and Frank Porfido asking their tenants to help keep their rents down by voting for the proposed budget as instigators of their decision that was voted on at the state level by the board of directors on March 10.
Following announcement of the boycott, targeted businesses took to the defense. Porfido called the boycott "a black eye for Littleton," expressing concern that business people were targeted after exercising their right to free speech in the political arena.
The 12 businesses being boycotted are Lahout's Apartments and Mini-Storage, Porfido's Market and Deli, Gold House Restaurant, Foto Factory, Hadlock Insurance Group, Arrow Express Lube and Auto Care, Darrell A. Louis Insurance, WLTN 96.7, Attorney Brien Ward, Moore Dam Auto, and Chutters. Napa Auto Parts was also named in the SEA's original list, but the business was retracted in the statement from the SEA last week, as the target was actually the prior owner, Steve Kelley, rather than current owner Kelly Clark.
"These are people who have given a lot to the town," said Gilman Friday of the businesspeople targeted, adding that he believes the boycott was issued to "intentionally add fuel to the fire."
"I think they're trying to pull a Wisconsin," said Gilman, referring to the public outcry and protests following a anti-union bill designed to drastically cut back collective bargaining rights introduced in the state's Legislature. If that is the case, Gilman was skeptical as to whether the strategy would work.
"Who knows? Maybe business will actually increase because people up here don't like to be told what to do," said Gilman, calling the boycott an attack against free speech.
Despite his condemnation of the state union's actions, Gilman defended the Littleton Police Department.
"The police department is not a monolith," said Gilman. "Just because someone from the SEA says something doesn't mean they all think that way."