(Updated) The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition decided to table its vote against the tentative agreement indefinitely as it ponders its options. But what happens in the immediate future will depend heavily on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who has until Friday to close a $1.6 billion hole in the state budget.
Patrice Peterson, president of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001, said union leadership isn’t saying they’re going to be changing the bylaws of the coalition, but leadership wants to take a look at the entire process.
“We feel our bylaws were created at a different time for a different purpose,“ Kathy Sanner, president of UConn Professional Employees Association, said. “First of all there were fewer unions involved in SEBAC at the time and the purpose of the bylaws was to prevent problems with the pension—pension raiding.“
Eleven of the 15 unions and 26 of 34 bargaining groups voted to ratify the agreement, but under the complicated bylaws of the coalition 14 of the 15 unions needed to ratify the agreement and 80 percent of the voting members also need to approve it. It failed to meet either threshold, even though a majority voted to ratify it. The concession package included a two-year wage freeze, changes to health care benefits, job security for four years, and an increase in the retirement age.
With 57 percent of the membership voting to ratify the agreement, Sanner said they would like to explore whether these bylaws are still appropriate given the fact that a majority of state workers, a majority of our members voted in favor of the agreement.
“We’re not saying right now we’re going to be changing our bylaws,” Peterson said. “What we’re saying is we’re going to take a look at the fact that a majority of our members voted to accept the tentative agreement. We also know for some of the people who voted no we’re hearing they didn’t have the correct information.”
“We need the time,” Peterson said.
But time is not on their side.
“The Governor is proceeding as if there’s no agreement, because right now there isn’t,” Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said. “His job is to make sure there’s a balanced budget in place on July 1, one that’s balanced with no gimmicks. That’s what he’s focused on.”
“If it should turn out that SEBAC, through its internal process, reaches a different conclusion then I’m sure that’s something the Governor would take a look at,” Occhiogrosso added. “But he’s not planning on that happening, nor is he counting on it to happen.”
Asked if they would change the bylaws and then apply it to the vote it tabled, Daniel Livingston, chief SEBAC negotiator, said “this exact situation is unprecedented.”
“We have a set of rules that prevent accepting the agreement right now even though a majority favor it,” Livingston said. “We’re going to do everything we can to reach a different outcome.”
He said he understands the Malloy administration has said they will be moving forward with layoffs notices. He said he doesn’t expect the unions to come up with a solution to the problem between now and Thursday when the legislature will convene and possibly give Malloy increased rescission authority to close the budget gap.
He said it’s possible the coalition of union leaders will be able to find a solution as soon as possible. He said they’re exploring all different alternatives including one which would allow the coalition to apply revised bylaws to the tabled vote on the agreement.
But there were no hard proposals for how to get to another outcome.
Sal Luciano, president of AFSCME Council 4, who represents four of the bargaining groups that voted against the package, said he respects the no votes.
“While we respect those people who voted no we also want to use our creativity to respect those 11 unions outside of AFSCME and those five bargaining groups inside of AFSCME that voted yes,” Luciano said.
“I don’t want to use changing the rules as a way to circumvent the vote,” Luciano said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
But union leaders did leave the door open for a revote if membership of individual unions asked for one.
“Any union that wants to reconsider, can reconsider,” Livingston said. “That would in accordance with the democratic process.”
Livingston said the members would have to call for the revote themselves.
“This is an agreement strongly favored by 57 percent of the members,” Livingston said.
In the end 21,415 voted in favor of it and 15,588 voted against it.
Click here to read a copy of the resolution the coalition adopted.