Gov. Chris Sununu continues to oppose a request from the State Employees Association and Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette to make permanent the temporary 20 percent pay increase given to 231 mental health workers during the pandemic.

In arguing for a pay increase, Shibinette said without it “New Hampshire Hospital will be unable to adequately recruit and retain staff,” according to an October fact-finder’s report. Nearly 70 percent of part-time mental health worker positions are vacant, according to the report, which is on today’s Executive Council agenda.

In including it on the agenda, Sununu has asked councilors to review the report and offer input on whether the fact-finder’s support for a permanent wage increase be “accepted or rejected.”

Sununu’s office could not be immediately reached Tuesday. In his request to the council, Sununu said he rejected the request because “agreeing to these provisions could cause potential long-term unintended consequences that may reach far beyond this specific sub-unit (of mental health workers).”

The wage increase was approved in December 2020 and is set to expire this December.

The mean wage of all mental health workers at the state hospital is 45.8 percent less than what workers in other states’ psychiatric hospitals earn, the report quoted Shibinette as saying.

The state and SEA reached an agreement on a three-year contract for the state’s 11,200 covered employees in June. This disagreement with Health and Human Services covers issues unique to the state hospital’s workers.

Three other state agencies — the Liquor Commission, Marine Patrol and Department of Transportation — are also at odds with Sununu on issues related just to their employees, including disputes over sick-leave policies, reimbursement for personal use of tools, and employees having water bottles at liquor store cash registers.

Those contract disputes are also on the agenda.

The fact-finder called the union’s request for permanent wage increase “persuasive” and cited the low wages the state pays mental health workers.

Someone with no experience earns $12.87 an hour, Shibinette said, according to the report. After four years, they earn $15 an hour, the same amount, she noted, paid to fast-food workers.

This story originally appeared in the N.H. Bulletin.