By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — The public will have a chance to weigh in on how the town does its collective bargaining work with employee unions.
Residents are invited to provide opinions and suggestions about the town’s future union contracts at a collective bargaining goals public hearing on Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the municipal center.
The public did have time to give comments recently on a town union deal.
In June, a new three-year contract with the Teamsters Local 633, which covers public works employees, was approved.
The public was invited to give comment that night, right before the final Town Council vote.
That, according to acting Town Administrator and Human Resources Director Larry Budreau, was not the proper way for the process to be successful.
“Goals had already been set, the union had ratified the proposed contract and now, at the final moments of a process that may have lasted months or years, the public expressed its views,” Budreau said. “It’s not fair to the public, the town negotiators, or the unions. It makes more sense to involve the public in the front end of the goal-setting process.”
Right now, there are seven contracts posted on the town’s website. Of that total, only two are current. All others expired within the past several years.
Budreau said unions often operate under an outdated contract until an agreement is reached. That could take months or years.
In the past, town councilors have scheduled public hearings on collective bargaining agreements when they are at the final approval stage, Budreau said.
“But I don’t recommend it,” he said. “I think it brings negotiations out to the public and it can become a public spectacle.”
Giving the public a chance to be involved early on in the process is best, he said.
Initially, Town Councilor Neil Wetherbee said holding a public hearing on the contract was a good idea, but agreed the public’s comments should come before contact negotiations begin.
“We give (Budreau) direction on what the contract should be, then we take public input,” he said. “I think the process is backward.”
Town Councilor Mark Osborne agrees public input should be part of the process, prior to the start of negotiations.
“Otherwise, how can the negotiator know if he or she is working toward the goals of the people,” he said, “which then should be the goals of the council in most respects.”
Osborne how the town spends its money should be of top concern for all residents.
“The money belongs to and derives from the people,” he said. “We, on the council, are merely stewards of that treasure.”
Having the public weigh in can only improve the process, he said.
Budreau said the public is always welcome to comment.
“That’s how government works,” he said.
Having public opinion come prior to the negotiation process is a good compromise where town unions are concerned, he said.
“Residents can come and help set the goals,” Budreau said. “Then we’ll go off and do our work.”
Union contracts are posted on the human resources page of the town’s website at derrynh.org.
Derry residents are encouraged to review the agreements and provide input to the town council by calling, emailing or attending the public hearing Oct. 15.