Several members and one chapter were honored with awards at the 2014 Convention. Those awards, which are handed out yearly, honor an outstanding member, chapter and chapter president, and recognize one member for political action.
The award for outstanding member, named for John B. Parker, went to Michelle McDermott, president of Chapter 11 at the N.H. Veterans Home. McDermott said she was surprised by the honor, and didn’t realize she was getting the award until presenter Betty Thomas mentioned Chapter 11. Though the award is a singular honor, McDermott said it was an honor for the entire chapter.
“It’s nice to be recognized for all the hard work we do up here at the Veterans Home,” she said. “We sometimes feel unattached because we’re so far from Concord and all the happenings there, so it’s just nice for the chapter to be recognized in any small way.”
SEA members at the Veterans Home have revitalized their chapter over the last few years, and McDermott said it’s been very much a team effort.
“We have a great group of people here that want to see things change and want to help,” McDermott said. “Working together, we can accomplish so much.”
The Outstanding Chapter Award this year was presented to Chapter 21, the Sununu Youth Services Center. Chapter President Evelyn Clark-Smith said she told her colleagues that she was proud of them for advocating for themselves and getting things done, working hard and fighting for their rights. She said the award shows their struggles there did not go unnoticed.
“It shows that everything affecting us was noticed by others,” she said. “Obviously, it was noticed all along because we got so much help from outside, but this is a sign that all the efforts weren’t for nothing.”
Members at SYSC had been advocating for an overhaul of the juvenile justice system, and many helped work on SB 391, which would have revitalized the state’s juvenile justice oversight board. Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed that bill, but ultimately issued an Executive Order that called for the creation of the Governor’s Commission to Review and Advise on Services to At-Risk Adolescent Youth in New Hampshire. Just after Chapter 21 received its award, it was announced to convention that the director of juvenile justice, with whom many disputes had arisen, had resigned. Clark-Smith said she thought this was a sign of better things to come.
“We’re just hoping for somebody to come in who’s willing to work with us for the kids’ sakes, to make things better for the kids and staff alike,” she said.
The Charlie Stevens Award for outstanding chapter president was presented to Kathleen Mayo, an SEA Director and president of Chapter 65 in Strafford County, which includes the county nursing home and jail. Along with SEA staff, including Chris Long, Joe Cicirelli and Steve Eckerberg, Mayo was able to help repel an external challenge to the chapter and helped lead the members at the Strafford County House of Corrections to find its own independent voice, forming their own chapter and bargaining unit.
“I think the award had a lot to do with that, Chris and I working long hours, going to the jail at 2 or 3 in the morning,” she said. “It was a long haul.”
Mayo said being a good chapter president is about being there for your members, even if it’s in the middle of the night. Because of that late-night legwork, she said they were able to figure out what the members wanted and ultimately achieved it. In the case of the House of Corrections, what they wanted was to break away for negotiations.
“And now, they’re negotiating their own contract,” she said.
The final award, the Raymond E. Proulx Political Action Award, was presented to Chapter 1 member Dianne Schuett. Schuett is currently seeking re-election to the House of Representatives, and was the primary sponsor of the SEA member-driven anti-bullying legislation. While that bill, HB 591, was ultimately vetoed, it made it further than any similar legislation in any other state — passed by both chambers of the state legislature.
Schuett said she was humbled by the award.
“It made me feel that people do recognize that I’m working to make things better for state employees and retirees, which is one of the main reasons I got involved in this job,” she said.
HB 591 may have been the most newsworthy part of this last legislative term for Schuett, but she said she was proud of what she was able to accomplish as vice chair of the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee, dealing with state employee policies and retirement system bills.
“I was very pleased and proud to see that members did recognize that,” Schuett said.
Congratulations to all of our award winners, and thank you for your service to the union and your fellow members.