Late last week the governor’s administration issued a memo reassuring laid off unionized state workers that they would have job security if their bargaining unit passed the revised tentative concession agreement.
The memo from Office of Policy and Management Labor Relations Director Linda Yelmini comes as state employee unions head back to the polls to cast their votes for a second time on a labor agreement meant to fill a $1.6 billion hole in the state’s budget for the next biennium.
As of last Tuesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration had issued more than 3,000 layoff notices since unions rejected the first negotiated agreement. Some of those soon to be or recently out of work employees have expressed concerns about what their job protection status may be when the dust settles.
If the agreement passes, permanent unionized workers laid off from the Executive Branch will get their jobs back and be protected as long as their bargaining units approve negotiated changes to healthcare and pension benefits as well as wage concessions, according to the memo.
“This means that regardless of the wording of their layoff notice/letter (e.g., lack of work, organization, etc.), the employee will be returned to work if they have been laid off prior to ratification OR their layoff notice will be rescinded, as applicable, subject to the exceptions outlined in the 2011 SEBAC Agreement,” it said.
Those exceptions include people who were laid off while still in their initial test period, those whose terms naturally expired and temp workers whose appointment expired. Also not protected are non-tenured employees who didn’t have permanent status, people in grant funded positions if the grants or funding was terminated, and part-time workers who weren’t eligible for health insurance benefits.
Though the memo addressed only Executive Branch workers, State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition spokesman Matt O’Connor said in a member update statement that the state’s other agencies have made the same guarantee.
The Malloy administration said the memo was another effort at helping state workers understand the clarified agreement they are voting on.
“The governor and his administration have said all along that they are happy to clarify provisions contained within the tentative agreement, should there be concern or questions,” said Malloy spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan.
In a statement to members, O’Connor said the memo was an attempt by the Malloy administration to quell concerns and confusion, which he said were partly due to confusion at the agency manager level and inaccurate media accounts.
But in the days since a clarified agreement was reached, union leaders have decided to have less input in media accounts, preferring instead to make the explanation of the clarified agreement an internal process.
For the union’s perspective, reporters have been largely limited to using whatever applicable material they are able to glean from member update statements posted on the SEBAC website and fliers circulating among workers.
As a result, recent coverage regarding the continued efforts to educate members and ultimately vote on a clarified labor agreement have been published with little to no comment from SEBAC or the leaders of the individual unions.
As workers continue to vote over the next few weeks, leaders are relying on informational hearings and efforts like Yelmini’s memo, which will be posted around state work areas, to help convince the requisite simple majority to support the tentative SEBAC agreement.
Individual members are also being encouraged to tell co-workers that adopting the agreement will protect jobs.
“Join the effort help your co-workers make an informed decision about the agreement to save their jobs and benefits. There are varying levels of involvement you can sign up for, depending on your willingness and ability to commit time,” O’Connor wrote in his most recent member update.
At least 83 percent of the rank and file will vote on the refined deal while at least two units which strongly approved the first agreement have opted to cast a “yes” vote without a member re-vote.
The first agreement failed in June when union bylaws required 14 of the 15 unions and 80 percent of voting members to approve in order for ratification. At that point only 57 percent of members supported it.
But in a move that drew criticism from some members, the coalition changed its bylaws last month. Now ratification only requires 8 of the 15 unions and a majority of members to vote “yes.”
The unions have until the end of this month to make a decision on the concession package before the window outlined in the budget legislation closes and whatever cuts the legislature ultimately approves become permanent.