Grafton County Sheriff's Office employees join Teamsters

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-30-2023 3:05 AM

NORTH HAVERHILL — Seeking to close what they say are “pay inequities” with other county employees, members of the Grafton County Sheriff’s Office have voted to join Teamsters Local 633 in Manchester.

In doing so, the office has become the second department of county workers to form a collective bargaining pact under the umbrella of a powerful national labor union.

The New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board this week certified Teamsters Local 633, of Manchester, as the designated collective bargaining representative for 24 Sheriff’s Office employees. Sheriff’s Office employees now join certain employees of the county nursing home as the only Grafton County employees to be unionized.

Official union affiliation was designated after “a majority of the eligible voters who cast their ballots” voted in favor of joining the Manchester Teamster chapter, the Labor Relations Board said. Although the ballot is secret and the precise number is not known, Teamsters Local 633 said Sheriff’s Office employees “voted overwhelmingly” to join the union.

“We look forward to getting these workers a contract that provides them with the same strong protections they provide to Grafton County communities,” Jeffrey Padellaro, secretary-treasurer of Local 633, said in a news release.

The drive among Sheriff’s Office employees to unionize took on added incentive in the wake of last year’s budget cycle, when workers at the county jail and nursing home were given an extra $2-per-hour wage increase on top of the raises that all other hourly county workers received. That embittered employees of the Sheriff’s Office, who like law enforcement agencies elsewhere have been functioning with an ongoing shortage of front-line officers and critical staff workers.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

By the Way: Music drew me to the Episcopal Church
Dartmouth to pitch plans for West Wheelock housing project
Thetford 57, Hazen 53: Third championship in six years produces a sweet celebration
School Notes for Monday, March 4
Short-term rental debates pit Upper Valley property owners against neighbors
Montpelier 58, Hartford 49: Wait continues for Hurricane boys basketball

Sheriff’s Office positions covered in the new bargaining unit include civil assistant, criminal assistant, deputy sheriff, detective, detective sergeant, dispatcher, dispatch supervisor, lieutenant and sergeant.

“I’m excited for them because there certainly are some inequities by comparison to other county offices and departments,” said Jeff Stiegler, Grafton County sheriff, whose own position as a department head is excluded from the union but who nonetheless endorses it. “They deserve a seat at the table rather than, ‘Here’s what we pay,’ which is the way it has been done.”

Previously, the Sheriff’s Office — as is the case with the nearly all county departments — had a member on the Employee Council, an in-house committee that represents county employees during the annual budget cycle when pay scales are set. But Stiegler said the council lacks the resources and clout of a bona fide collective bargaining unit and “pretty much rubber stamps” what the county commissioners want to offer.

Grafton County Commissioner Wendy Piper, of Enfield, who also represents Hanover and Lebanon, said she didn’t view the Sheriff’s Office employees forming a union as presenting a contentious issue.

“I certainly respect and they have every right” to organize, said Piper, adding “it might even help them in hiring as a recruitment tool.”

Piper said the reason commissioners decided to give nursing home and corrections employees extra money above the across-the-board raise all county hourly wage earners received last year was because of the critical staffing shortages both of those departments have been facing.

“Those departments were really hurting, and we are statutorily required to provide those functions,” Piper said.

But Stiegler, the sheriff, said that although he doesn’t object to the higher salaries paid to members of other departments if warranted, his rank-and-file employees felt slighted by the gesture, especially given the Sheriff’s Office has two full-time deputy positions that he has been struggling to fill.

The department is budgeted for nine full-time deputies and spends about $140,000 annually on part-time deputies.

A couple years ago, he said, the county ordered up a wage scale study to see how Grafton County employees were paid in comparison to other counties around the state — and the findings were eye-opening.

“The sheriff’s office was the department that was most significantly undervalued and underpaid,” he said, and when the commissioners decided not to act to close the gap “you just say to yourself, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ”

(The high sheriff’s position is an elected office and although it works closely with other departments of county government and the county commissioners, it is a separate entity in the state.)

Under the current wage scale reached in the last budget cycle, a sergeant in the Sheriff’s Office is paid — depending upon experience — from $26.75 to $36.65 per hour; a detective is paid from $25.57 to $35 per hour; and a deputy is paid from $24.45 to $33.43 per hour.

A dispatcher is paid from $21.39 to $29.15 per hour.

Employees covered in the county nursing home under a collective bargaining agreement with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers’ Local 278 include dietary aides, licensed nursing assistants, unit aides, unit secretaries, cooks, restorative aides, medication nursing assistants, activities aides, housekeeping and laundry workers.

Stiegler said that “as a kid in Haverhill, I kind of grew up in an anti-union culture.” But then 25 years working as a police officer in Laconia — during which he did a stint as a union president himself — changed his views about the important role unions play in pay, benefits and working conditions for their members.

“I saw the light,” he said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.