Liquor Commission Seeks to Ban Union President From Entering State Liquor Stores

Jul 13, 2018

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission is seeking to ban the president of one of the state’s largest labor unions from entering any state liquor store for the next six months.

The effort is an escalation in an ongoing dispute between the state agency and some of its workers over the proper handling of large all-cash transactions and allegations of bootlegging.

In a grievance filed June 25, the Liquor Commission argues that Richard Gulla, president of the State Employees Association and a former liquor store manager, violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement during a February 3rd visit to the Keene liquor store.

Gulla was joined during that visit by Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, who first raised a series of concerns earlier this year about how the state-run liquor stores handle bulk sales, including allegations that the Liquor Commission may be turning a blind eye to illegal activity. At the center of Volinsky’s claims are observations he says he made during that store visit with Gulla, where the two witnessed a large transaction of Hennessy cognac broken into several smaller sales to avoid triggering federal financial reporting requirements.

Volinsky’s claims, which he publicized in a February letter to Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, launched an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice into how the Liquor Commission processes large all-cash sales. The employee who completed the transaction inside the Keene liquor store was fired for violating Liquor Commission policies. The union argues that the employee should be given whistleblower status, and has filed a separate grievance on his behalf.

Officials with the state Liquor Commission have repeatedly denied allegations that they turn a blind eye to illegal transactions at their stores, and have said all employees are trained in how to legally process bulk, all-cash sales.

In recent weeks, a group of union members have criticized Gulla’s handling of bootlegging concerns, including circulating a petition. According to the latest grievance filed by the Liquor Commission, Gulla visited a liquor store managed by one of the petition’s organizers on June 19. It isn’t clear what the purpose of the visit was, though the Liquor Commission describes it as “tremendously unsettling” to store employees and “disruptive to store operations.”

The Liquor Commission is requesting that Gulla refrain from visiting any liquor stores for six months to allow for a “cooling off period.” In a response from the State Employees Association dated July 3, the union denies that Gulla’s visit to the store was disruptive, and claims that the Liquor Commission is violating the terms of the union’s contract.

“This is just a continuance of the State of New Hampshire’s and the [Liquor Commission’s] campaign against the SEA and its NHLC members for their assistance in trying to prevent this State from being criminally charged and fined by the Federal Government for illegal procedures being practiced and encouraged by some high ranking agents of the NHLC and the State of New Hampshire,” writes the SEA Grievance Representative Charles McMahon.

An arbitrator has been requested to settle the dispute.

Tensions between the State Employees Association and the Liquor Commission have been building for months, since the bootlegging allegations first surfaced in February. In early June, the SEA released a campaign-style web ad criticizing the Liquor Commission and called for a change in leadership at the agency. Liquor Commission chairman Joseph Mollica, in a July 11 rebuttal to the union, criticized the “spin campaign.”

“Beyond a mere expression of opinion, the SEA public campaign against the [Liquor COmmission] is replete with false statements of fact and serve no social value and are wholly intended to obstruct the [Commission’s] rights and ability to manage, direct and control its operations,” writes Mollica.

Mollica concludes the letter by requesting the union to “cease and desist attempts to frighten, intimidate or silence” liquor store employees.