The fight over a new contract for the New Hampshire state employees' union crossed paths with the 2020 presidential race Friday in Concord.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called for an end to the union's impasse with Gov. Chris Sununu. The State Employees Association wants a 4 percent wage increase over the next two years, as recommended by an independent fact-finder's report on the stalled contract negotiations.
Sununu has said he'd support a roughly 2 percent increase, but won't bring the fact-finders’ report to the Executive Council for a vote. The union says that’s required.
They got support from Sanders Friday at a packed press conference inside the state Legislative Office Building. Sanders stood alongside union leaders and workers from the state Departments of Transportation and Corrections and Veterans' Home.
"The truth is, when people do important work – keeping us safe, protecting our veterans – they should not have to live paycheck to paycheck. They should not have to be on government assistance programs,” Sanders said.
Sanders urged Sununu to accept the fact-finder's conclusions and agree to the 4 percent wage hike, which he called "modest” -- “barely [enough to cover] inflation.”
"This is not asking for a huge wage increase,” Sanders said. “This is asking to be treated with respect. That's what this is about."
John Woodhull works for the Department of Information Technology and came to the press conference with his kids. He says the proposed wage hike is his biggest priority in the new contract.
“Everywhere else, [where] cost of living is going up, it’s not a big question,” Woodhull says. “We just need to have the same adjustment that the private sector is getting.”
Woodhull describes himself as a longtime Sanders supporter.The union endorsed Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary. SEA president Rich Gulla says the membership “may or may not” choose to endorse someone this cycle.