Published Date Written by Michael KitchLACONIA — Members of the three unions representing employees of the Belknap County Nursing Home, Sheriff's Department and Corrections Department have ratified 18-month collective bargaining agreements negotiated with the Board of Commissioners.
Neil Smith of the State Employees Association, who negotiated the agreements for the unions, said yesterday that they include the merit step raises for eligible employees recommended by the commission but, to date, stripped from the 2013 county budget by the Belknap County Convention. Although employees would receive no general wage increase this year, they would be awarded a two-percent raise in June, 2014, prior to the expiration of the agreement. Smith pointed out that employees went without raises in the last contract, which expired on December 31.
Smith said that while the employees' contributions to the cost of health insurance remain unchanged, what he called "significant " measures have been negotiated to reduce health care costs by "providing employees a path to wellness. The entire county complex would become a non-smoking area. More important, all employees would be required to undergo a health assessment and physical examination as well as participate in a wellness program. The contribution to premium costs of those who failed to comply would increase by as much as three times. Smith said that the program would lower the risk profile of county employees and with it future premium costs.
Apart from denying the step increases, the county convention has also eliminated funding for a 7.3-percent increase in health insurance premiums from the 2013 budget. It has also struck funding for bonus payments for unused sick time and longevity of service, which are included in the contracts.
Speaking to the convention last night, Representative Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) said he calculated that in the last five years health insurance premiums have risen eight-percent a year while the bonus for unused sick time has doubled and for longevity of service has climbed from $118 to $149. Meanwhile the employer contribution to the New Hampshire Retirement System has increased from $4,400 to $6,200.
"Employees are expensive," Vadney said, adding that the cost of benefits has grown by $23,000. "You have to worry about the trajectory we're on."
Although the commission asked to present the cost items in the collective bargaining agreements to the convention, Representative Worsman (R-Meredith) chose to defer any consideration of the contracts, which the convention must approve.