City timely on contract, board rules

NASHUA – The board of aldermen and mayor acted within the time frame allowed by state law when they approved a teachers contract proposal earlier this year.

That was the ruling handed down this week by the state’s public employee labor relations board.

Steve Bolton, the president of the board of aldermen, called the decision expected.

Bob Sherman, president of the Nashua Teachers’ Union, said the decision provides clarity for future negotiations.

At issue was whether the city took action within the window of time provided by state law or took too long to analyze the cost of the contract.

In March, the union filed a petition with the labor board accusing city officials of acting illegally by taking action on a contract proposal after the required 30-day time period outlined in state law.The school board and the union had come to terms on a tentative agreement shortly after the new year, the third proposal since the last teachers contract had expired in Sept. 2006.

Aldermen approved the contract Feb. 12 and Mayor Donnalee Lozeau issued a partial veto of the contract Feb. 15, removing the raises from the first year of the proposal deal.

In its petition, the union claimed the terms of the contract proposal were submitted via e-mail to the city Jan. 7 and that the 30-day clock started ticking then. That meant the vote by aldermen and Lozeau’s veto would have both come after the 30 days allowed under state law, the union claimed.

In its ruling, issued Thursday, the labor board disagreed, stating that the city’s current procedures complies with state law.

The dispute essentially revolved around the definition of the phrase “submission.” The city defines submission as the date at which the contract gets its first reading at a board of aldermen meeting.

The contract proposal was first read at a meeting held Jan. 22.

Steve Bolton, president of the board of aldermen, said it was obvious the board had met its legal obligation, he said.

“I was not surprised by the outcome,” he said.

Bolton added that because there was disagreement on the issue, it is beneficial to now have some clarity from the state’s labor board.

RSA 273-A:3 (c) reads that, “within 30 days of the receipt of submission, the city council, aldermen or the town council shall vote to accept or reject the cost items.”

As is procedure for all contracts, in the time between when the terms of the teachers contract proposal were e-mailed to the city and its first reading, the city’s financial department does a cost analysis.

In its petition, the union argued that defining submission as the first reading “could potentially lead to uncertainty and delay caused by the local bureaucratic process.”

But as the labor board pointed out in its ruling, state law also requires that the first reading be held within 30 days after the contract is negotiated, which eliminates the possibility of stalling for political reasons.

Bob Sherman, president of the Nashua Teachers Union, said that although the labor board’s decision differs from what the union argued in its petition, it offers clarity when it comes up again in the future.

“Hopefully this will establish a timetable not only for our contracts but for all contracts that go before the board of aldermen,” Sherman said.

Lozeau’s partial veto stripped the first-year raises out of the proposed deal. Teachers opted not to accept the contract with the changes.

It was the failure of this third contract proposal that eventually led to threat of a teachers strike and a series of eleventh-hour negotiations, which ultimately resulted in a new contract for city teachers.