Community members uphold contracts in New Hampshire

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Winning contracts in New Hampshire is a tricky business: Not only must labor and management agree, area voters must approve all contracts as well. That's why victory was especially sweet in New Hampshire this month, when the Timberlane Support Staff Union, a brand-new local representing paraprofessionals, won its first contract in a close vote at the polls.

In Timberlane, more than 4,400 community members from four towns voted on the contract proposal, which was approved by four votes and withstood a recount, even as the school budget was defeated.

How did the local secure such a victory? Timberlane educators may have gained momentum from the recent success in beating back another right-to-work attempt in the state Legislature. And they saw great results from framing their entire legislative package and contract campaign in Reclaiming the Promise ideology—clearly, voters agree that reclaiming the promise of public education is a priority. School leaders also did a bit of legwork to get this done. For both the school contract and the right-to-work legislation, they mobilized educators to post yard signs, attend public meetings with voters, distribute fliers and coordinate their outreach with other community supporters.

The new contract, which covers 150 employees, raises the initial offer of a 10-to-15-cents-an-hour wage increase to 30 cents an hour, expands health insurance to comply with the Affordable Care Act, includes family medical leave, adds a binding arbitration clause and preserves all current benefits.

After the vote, the local conducted its first elections for officers and building representatives, and Gabrielle Bevilacqua was elected president. Bevilacqua attended the AFT PSRP public speaking training in the fall and went right to work applying what she learned.

The success in Timberlane followed a similarly challenging contract in Hudson, N.H., another Republican stronghold. Three contracts passed there: one for teachers and full-time paraprofessionals, and one each for part-time paras and school secretaries.

[Virginia Myers, Terri Donovan]

April 25, 2014