For weeks, Rebecca Wentworth thought that if she avoided touching a pink piece of paper, she would be safe. But as it turned out, the layoff notices given to Wentworth and her colleagues were on white paper.
Wentworth, who works at one of the nine respite centers Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced he was closing last week, said she worries about what will happen to her and her colleagues, but she also worries about what will happen to her clients and their families who will be left with nowhere to go.
Wentworth takes care of developmentally disabled children and adults whose families need time to take care of things, such as the shopping that they just can’t get to when they’re caring for their loved ones 24 hours a day at home.
She said there’s little they’ve been able to tell families that’s reassuring. She said they’ve encouraged them to contact their legislators concerning the elimination of the respite program, but she feels somewhat helpless since the fate of the program relies on secret discussions between union leaders on changes to the bylaws.
A majority of Wentworth and her colleagues voted in favor of the first concession package because they understand how difficult it is in the private sector. She bristled at the notion that state workers are greedy and selfish people who work 9 to 5 and don’t care about their work or the taxpayers.
She said she’s tried to contact her union representative to find out if she has bumping rights, but has had difficulty getting an answer.
“Bumping doesn’t always make you feel good because then you’re putting someone else out of a job,” Wentworth said Sunday in a phone interview.
As a cancer survivor, she said she worries about losing her medical coverage.
Dave McCue, a processing technician at the Department of Administrative Services, also worries about his medical coverage — he is legally blind.
McCue said he had to get legislation passed several years ago to force the state to give him two weeks off so that he could receive and train his seeing eye dog without using vacation time.
Unlike Wentworth, McCue doesn’t directly service the public but he’s responsible for billing about $8 million a year in special education funds. McCue and one of the three other employees in his unit received layoff notices last week. He said the last bill he sent Friday was dated for sometime in April, so currently with four employees working in billing they’re a few months behind.
“We’re two to three drawers backlogged now,“ McCue said Saturday in a phone interview. “They just threw $8 million out the window.”
He said he wouldn’t be surprised if Connecticut loses money from the federal government if it’s unable to keep up with its billing. He said a portion of what he bills is then distributed to municipalities, who were held harmless by the General Assembly from further cuts to state aid.
While he’s not a big union supporter, McCue said he voted in favor of the concession package because he knew what was at stake.
His last day of work is Aug. 11 and he will be out picketing with his dog, letting everyone know they put a blind guy out on the street.
Like Wentworth, McCue hasn’t heard much from his union leadership on the matter, although he had received a letter from AFSCME Council 4 Executive Director Sal Luciano, which he was able to read with heavy-duty magnifying glasses.
But it didn’t offer any answers or information about bylaw changes the 15 union leaders are scheduled to discuss today.
Matt O’Connor, a spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents the 15 unions, 34 bargaining units, and 45,000 state employees, said SEBAC sent a survey to its members to try to ascertain their opinions on the matter.
He said Wentworth and McCue aren’t the only state employees looking for answers. He said he knows of an employee with 32 years of service who received a layoff notice and has no one to bump because his position doesn’t exist anywhere else in state government.
A lot of experienced Department of Transportation, custodial, and food service workers received layoff notices, O’Connor said Sunday, adding that an overwhelming number of workers are telling him they want the bylaws fixed.
“They just want a way out of this,” O’Connor said. “Few of them are saying ‘keep the status quo’ because the status quo has changed.”
And this time union members aren’t blaming the governor.
There’s a lot of anger and frustration out there that’s not directed at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, O’Connor admitted.
Initially, before the tentative agreement was reached and layoff notices started going out in May, union members felt betrayed that the man they helped elect would ask for $2 billion in concessions when he only cut about $800 million in spending from the budget. Other state employees who are concerned about speaking on the record have expressed concern that Malloy didn’t cut non-union management, which would have saved about $119 million, according to the Commission on Enhancing Agency Outcomes.
O’Connor said the union’s top priority at the moment are the employees who received layoff notices. He said whatever the next steps look like, first and foremost, he wants the more than 6,000 state employees with pink slips to know their rights and to know they should be approaching their individual union representatives for help.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the 15 unions will meet today to discuss how to change SEBAC’s 1996 bylaws, which contributed to the rejection of the deal. 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 57 percent of the voting members voted to ratify it.
Any change to the bylaws will need the support of at least 10 of the 15 union leaders. The two-thirds vote to change the bylaws to make it easier for a second concession package vote to pass won’t be easy, since the rules were constructed in order to give certain members of the coalition more power than others.
AFSCME, with 15,600 members, is the largest in the coalition and carries the greatest influence in the overall SEBAC vote. Four of the five bargaining units in AFSCME voted against the package, which puts its leadership in a tough position. It’s unlikely AFSCME will want to be seen giving up their power in the coalition.