Nov. 6, 2018
- Whether the PELRB erred in finding that RSA 273-A:9, I, requires a group of unions to remain in the bargaining committee format when one or more unions declares an impasse.
The petitioners, the New England Police Benevolent Association, Inc. (NEPBA) and the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, Inc., SEIU, Local 1984 (SEA), appealed a decision of the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) that dismissed their unfair labor practice complaints against the respondent, the State of New Hampshire.
In December 2016, the petitioners, as well as the Teamsters Local 633 (Teamsters), the New Hampshire Troopers Association (NHTA), and the New Hampshire State Police Command Staff of the New Hampshire Troopers Association began negotiations with the State. After several bargaining sessions, the State rejected all proposals concerning wages because of the anticipated increase of prescription drug costs. In March 2017, the Teamsters and NHTA declared an impasse, though the other unions, including the petitioners, did not. The State asserted that all five unions must proceed to impasse mediation.
The petitioners filed complaints with the PELRB, which determined that RSA 273-A:9, I, required all five unions to use the committee format while bargaining and during an impasse, and that the unions had an obligation to work with each other in bargaining or engaging in impasse resolution proceedings.
The Court’s opinion relied mostly on two sections of the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Act. RSA 273-A:9, I, which applies to negotiations between the State and the unions representing state employees, provides that all cost items and terms and conditions affecting state employees shall be negotiated by a single bargaining committee made up of representatives of all interested bargaining units. RSA 273-A:12, I(b), which applies to all public bargaining units and public employers, requires the parties to engage in mediation should they reach an impasse.
On appeal, neither petitioner disputed the general requirement under RSA 273-A:9 that they negotiate as a bargaining committee. Both argued before the Court that once one or more unions in the bargaining committee reaches an impasse with the State, the statute no longer obligates the unions to bargain as a committee, but rather, requires the State to negotiate individually with the unions who have not declared an impasse.
The Court determined that the statutory scheme was ambiguous on this issue. Upon analyzing the relevant statutes in the context of the entire scheme, the Court concluded that the legislature intended that unions negotiating on behalf of state employees continue negotiating as a bargaining committee when the item causing the impasse with one or more unions is common to all the unions. The Court determined that the impasse at issue in the case was the result of the State’s position on wages due to the anticipated increase in prescription drug costs, which was common to all of the unions in the bargaining committee. The Court also rejected the argument that its interpretation deprives unions of their ability to use independent negotiation strategies. Even when acting as a committee, the unions have the ability to advocate for the interests of their own members.
Because it held that the statute required the unions to negotiate as a single bargaining committee under the circumstances presented, the Court concluded that the PELRB did not act unlawfully or unreasonably in dismissing the petitioners’ complaints or in ordering the petitioners to use the committee format. On a final note, the Court stated that its function is to interpret laws, not make them, and that public policy arguments are properly brought to the legislature, which can amend the statutory scheme should it disagree with the Court’s interpretation.
Peter J. Perroni, Nolan | Perroni, of North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, for petitioner New England Police Benevolent Association, Inc. Glenn R. Milner, Concord, and Peter J. Perroni, for petitioner State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, Inc., SEIU, Local 1984. Gordon MacDonald, attorney general (Jill A. Perlow, assistant attorney general), for the respondent.