It’s one of the largest bargaining units in state government and it’s one of three which declined to sign off on the 2009 concession package negotiated by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Two years ago, while a majority of their fellow union workers agreed to wage freezes, furlough days, and reductions in health care benefits, nearly 5,000 front-line correction workers, who put their lives on the line every day, received wage increases when the General Assembly refused to vote on an arbitrated agreement.
By not agreeing to the same package their union brothers and sisters did the corrections workers received no lay-off protections. They hedged their bets and won. Not one of them was laid off.
This year the correction workers contract is set to expire at the same time union leadership is in discussions with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration over the contract for the entire unionized state employee workforce. Malloy has said he needs $1 billion a year in concessions from the more than 45,000 state employees.
But unlike other bargaining groups, correction workers, who are understaffed due to years of early retirement offers, have a lot of leverage and the recent minutes of Local 391’s executive board meeting may prove just how difficult things may get for the administration.
The minutes of the board meeting spell out in capitalized bold letters after the words SEBAC concessions: “NO, NO, NO!”
“The members have spoken and we have heard them loud and clear: No!,” the minutes read.
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said “it’s disappointing to see that kind of rhetoric at the same time we’re being told the unions are negotiating in good faith.”
But Larry Dorman, spokesman for both AFSCME Council 4 and SEBAC, said the minutes simply reflect the concerns and frustration of the front-line correction workers.
“Those concerns and frustrations are legitimate, and a product of years of disregard and disrespect from previous administrations,“ Dorman said. “But at the same time, having a local union articulate those concerns in no way negates the good faith discussions SEBAC is having with the Malloy administration.”
“We are a democratic union,“ Dorman added. “Our members have a right to speak their mind.”
Ultimately regardless of what happens during the closed-door negotiations, the bargaining groups that belong to SEBAC will have an opportunity to vote up or down any agreement that comes out of those negotiations. At the moment both sides are calling them discussions when it comes to SEBAC, but it’s fair to say the correction workers contract is under negotiation.
Dorman said every bargaining group has the right to change their minds at any point during the SEBAC process. He said that’s why it’s so important the Malloy administration listen to the front-line workers who know where to find savings and efficiencies.
Malloy’s administration seems to have its own ideas about where the Corrections Department can save money.
Malloy’s budget decreases the overall Corrections Department budget by about $43.6 million in the first year and about $72.4 million in the second year. Those reductions are coupled with policies meant to further reduce the state’s prison population, such as allowing certain inmates to earn credits toward early release.
Already the state’s prison population which peaked in 2008 after Rell banned parole, is currently down to its lowest levels in a decade and the more it declines the less leverage the bargaining group may have with their own contract negotiations.
In 2009 the correction workers contract provided for 3 percent general wage increases in the first year which in some cases were as high 6.5 percent based on step increases. The following two years were 2.5 percent increases.
According to the March 16 minutes of the executive board meeting, “Keep what we have, no givebacks!”