A recent letter from one of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition groups may be the first wrinkle in the ongoing ratification process for the $1.6 billion concession package.
Seven leaders of the Engineering, Scientific & Technical Council, whose members work at all 33 executive branch agencies and are part of the P-4 bargaining group, wrote this letter to CSEA President Patrice Peterson on Tuesday expressing concern about their contract, which is separate from the contract negotiated by SEBAC.
SEBAC only has the authority to negotiate health and pension benefits for its members. The bargaining group itself must handle negotiations for wages and other contractual changes, which means many bargaining groups have been voting on two separate contracts.
But Stan Juber, an alternate delegate for the P-4 Council to the CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 Executive Council and one of the seven leaders to author the letter to Peterson, said they were told they will only receive one ballot with all the contractual changes lumped into one question.
The bargaining group doesn’t vote until June 23, but Juber said they’re concerned they will have to accept or reject the entire package when they don’t believe the individual contract, including salary changes, was properly negotiated.
“This year, P-4 has not been consulted over the changes to our contract. It is our position that the terms of our existing P-4 contract, including the wage increase scheduled for July 1, cannot be changed unless P-4 has the opportunity to negotiate a new contract,” Juber said in an email Wednesday evening.
He said his council is urging its union’s leaders in his bargaining unit to wait on voting on the SEBAC contract until after the P-4 council can negotiate its contract.
But time is pressing and the seven who wrote the letter are a small percentage of the 2,600 members in the group, according to union leaders.
SEBAC leadership believes it did the right thing in reaching agreement on a framework that provides four years of job security and wage increases of 3 percent in the last three years, even though it acknowledges those items would ultimately be the authority of individual unions to negotiate.
Dawn McKay, secretary of the P-4 bargaining group, said Thursday morning that of the seven leaders who wrote the letter to Peterson five are from the Department of Transportation and two are from the Division of Special Revenues and the Comptroller’s Office and represent a small fraction of the group, which represents engineers and other technical staff at all executive branch agencies.
Asked if she was satisfied with the agreement and voting on it as one contract, McKay said, “I am.”
“A lot of people think the union negotiated the best deal possible. They know what’s at risk and what’s at stake,” she added.
Chuck Lee, president of one of the P-4 chapters and an engineer with the Department of Environmental Protection, agreed that members of the union know what’s at stake. He said his colleagues care about the environment and they know that if there are widespread layoffs the lack of adequate staffing will ultimately put the environment at risk.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said upward of 7,500 state employees will be laid off over the next two years if the agreement isn’t ratified. The statement hasn’t been well received by union members, who believed it was more threatening than helpful to achieving ratification. Malloy has said he was just being realistic about the consequences.
Regardless, union leaders do not dispute there are only certain things SEBAC can negotiate for its members.
“SEBAC does not, and has never claimed, authority over matters that are the responsibility of individual unions,” Larry Dorman, a SEBAC spokesman, wrote in reference to the P-4 letter to Peterson, which alleges union leadership may have overstepped its bounds in negotiating the contract. “The coalition only has the authority to collectively bargain over matters pertaining to pensions and health insurance.”
Still, Juber believes there are greater forces at work.
“Behind all this is a desire by certain union officials to not make Dan Malloy look bad (for fear, according to Dan Livingston, of strengthening “right-wing Republicans”),” Juber wrote. “The Democrats put together a budget based on insanely unrealistic concessions by state employees, then we had to work with the Governor to come up with a package that pretends to close that gap so that Malloy could save face.”
Union leaders dispute the characterization and believe the concession package and the numbers included in it are realistic.
“I never heard anyone being concerned about Dan Malloy’s face,” Matt O’Connor, SEBAC spokesman said. “I don’t dispute that’s how Stan feels, but it has nothing to do with what produced this agreement.”
“It is a fair agreement. We’ve saved jobs, we’ve saved vital benefits,” O’Connor said Thursday. “We ended up with less on the concessions end than anyone thought possible.”