(Updated 4:50 p.m.) It may be several weeks before the state Board of Labor Relations comes to a decision on a complaint filed against the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition by a state prosecutor, according to Labor Department officials.
The news came after a more than four hour conference regarding a July complaint filed by Lisa Herskowitz, who lodged a number of allegations at the governor and SEBAC, claiming the coalition violated its own bylaws and overstepped its negotiating authority.
The conference took place at the Labor Department’s headquarters in Wethersfield where the board’s agent Katherine Foley was charged with determining how to proceed with the complaint.
At the end of the day she decided to take some time to review documents submitted during the meeting and allow all parties to submit additional documents before making any decision, Department of Labor spokeswoman Nancy Steffens said.
“It’s not over,” Herskowitz said, leaving the building.
She said she would be sending the board some additional documents to support her case.
The 17-year prosecutor said she wasn’t seeking a settlement she was only looking to halt a second vote on a $1.6 billion labor concession agreement SEBAC negotiated with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration.
The first package failed to be ratified in June when only 57 percent of voting union members supported it. That vote was not enough to satisfy the requirements in place at that time calling for 14 of the 15 unions and 80 percent of voting members approve.
But in a move that Herskowitz said silenced the voice of her union, leaders changed the SEBAC bylaws to allow a majority vote to ratify the deal and are now moving forward with a vote on a clarified agreement.
She said the goal of her complaint is simple:
“They should reinstate the “no” vote,” she said standing outside DOL headquarters. “I just don’t think we should vote again. If they stopped that process I would say fine.”
SEBAC Lawyer Dan Livingston said he was confident the board would ultimately dismiss the complaint.
“What was presented here has absolutely no legal basis and there is no chance that it will be successful. [Herskowitz] actually acknowledged that all the union leaders involved acted in good faith on doing the best they could to protect all their members,” he said after the meeting. “She doesn’t like the way they did it but that’s not a legal claim.”
Even if the board did find a violation in SEBAC’s actions there is no reasonable way the labor board could do anything about the vote, he said.
For the first hour and a half of the closed-doors meeting, Herskowitz explained her case to the board and representatives of the complaint’s respondents, she told reporters while taking a break at around 11:30 a.m.
One of the allegations Herskowitz made in her complaint was that Malloy was attempting to coerce workers when he showed up at a training session for state’s attorneys and talked about his days as a prosecutor, just minutes before the group was scheduled to vote on the agreement only four miles down the road, she wrote.
“Many members were extremely upset by this unfair, coercive move on the part of the management and the governor. The agreement only passed my union by seven votes. This unfair labor practice may well have affected the result,” she wrote in the complaint.
Following a bond commission meeting last week, the governor said coercion was never his intent. He was attending another meeting in the same building and didn’t know the prosecutors were even there until the person running the training session asked him to stop in and say hello, he said.
“Being fellow state employees I accepted that invitation to say hello, which is not to say that I wouldn’t have said hello to any room full of 200 people. It is in my nature to say hello to rooms full of 200 people,” he said.
Livingston dismissed other allegations in the complaint. Herskowitz contended that SEBAC had no authority to negotiate wage concessions for the labor agreement that it “forced union members to vote on in June.”
Livingston said that job security can only feasibly be negotiated on a coalition basis. SEBAC forced the administration to make an offer protecting workers from layoffs for four years but individual unions are free to stick with their original contracts, he said. However, in her original complaint, Herskowitz said her union wasn’t even given the option of voting on the wage package separately.
He also defended the union leaders who negotiated with the administration, who he said have had to make some tough decisions recently.
“I’ve never seen a group of people work harder or where the stakes were higher,” he said.
He predicted that when the votes are tallied on the clarified agreement state employees will have chosen to ratify the deal.
But Herskowitz is certainly not alone in her dissent. Around 50 supporters came out with signs and camped outside the building as she met with the board. All had complaints about the decisions SEBAC has made as it has scrambled to get a labor agreement in place.
Someone called out “Lisa, give ‘em hell!” as she entered the building.
Taken out of context the scene would seem bizarre: unionized workers protesting not the actions of their employers but of the people elected to represent them. But it was evidence of the discontent among some workers that has appeared in the comments sections of many news websites.
Heather Branca, a Department of Transportation employee of 10 years, praised Herskowitz’s complaint for saying what was on the minds of many state workers.
By suspending a requirement that members be notified at least 30 days before SEBAC changes its bylaws, and then voting to change the bylaws anyway, the coalition circumvented a democratic process, she said. Branca said the group would do whatever it wanted to get the concession deal passed, regardless of what the rank and file want.
“How many rules and bylaws will they change to force this decision?” she asked.
She said the leaders who make SEBAC’s decisions are mostly Tier I employees whose benefits suffer little under the deal they helped negotiate. Meanwhile Teir II employees are asked to give up far more, she said.
Peter Macher, an engineer for the DOT, said it’s because of those benefits that most people decide to work for the state, instead of the private sector where they would make more in salaries.
“I’m not here for the pay, I’m here for the benefits,” he said.
If the state wanted to save money it should have gotten rid of highly paid consultants rather than changing the benefits of people who actually work, he said. He suggested the deal’s changes to healthcare and pension benefits were for punishment.
“If they’re trying to punish us, what they’re doing is right,” he said.
Not all workers felt that way, however. As her brethren stood outside chanting “No means no,” DOL employee Jacqueline Maldonado said she felt the demonstration was a little hypocritical.
Maldonado conceded that the unions had botched the process up somewhat since the first vote failed but said that workers would not even be able to stand outside the building and protest if it weren’t for the rights SEBAC has fought to preserve.
“It’s frustrating because when you start to look at what the unions are trying to preserve, I believe we have benefits that not everyone else in Connecticut has,” she said.
The demonstration will likely effect how members vote and Maldonado said there is a lot at stake if unions chose to reject it again.
“We stand to lose our benefits and we will never get them back. We will end up with the same benefits as the private sectors, which frankly suck,” she said.