The layoff dates of part-time workers at the nine respite centers run by the Department of Developmental Services have been indefinitely extended while the state Office of Labor Relations continues talks with their union.
Layoff notices went out to all 83 respite center employees on July 14 and 15 as part of a cost savings plan after unionized state employees rejected a negotiated concession agreement, leaving a $1.6 billion hole in the state’s budget for the next biennium.
At that time, part-time respite center employees were told they would work their last day either on July 28 or Aug. 4. But those dates have come and gone and the employees continue to work, taking care of developmentally disabled children and adults.
The extensions are unrelated to the ongoing second union vote on a clarified labor agreement, DDS spokeswoman Joan Barnish said Monday.
Rather, she said the indefinite deadline only reflects the department abiding by its employees’ collective bargaining agreement, which states that during the required notice period “the employer shall meet with the union to discuss possible alternative proposals to avoid the layoff and/or to mitigate the impact on the employee(s) and/or possible retraining options.”
“Discussions have continued since that first meeting,” Barnish wrote in an email. “…their effective dates were extended until further notice while we continue discussions with [SEIU] District 1199. The extension of the effective dates clearly stated that the their layoff notices were not being rescinded.”
Bill Welz, a part-time worker at the Putnam Family Respite Center who would have been laid off already, said to his knowledge his facility is still scheduled to close on Sept. 6.
But letters DDS mailed to employees delaying their layoffs generated some confusion, he said. A co-worker at another respite center took the letter to mean his facility had been saved, he said. Welz had to explain that nothing was set in stone.
Questions have also come from families who rely on the centers to take care of their disabled loved ones so they can do things like go shopping. Though the centers do handle emergency cases, typically families make an appointment at the respite center at least three weeks in advance, Welz said.
But he said his supervisor hasn’t been able to tell the parents much. They make a note of the date and hope for the best, he said. One family asked if the respite center could still make an appointment for Sept. 12.
“We don’t even know if we’re going to be here on Sept. 12,” Welz said.
But there is some confidence that when unions are finished voting in less than two weeks, the state will have a ratified labor agreement and the closures will be avoided.
He said a decision last month by the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition to change the number of unions that it needs to ratify the agreement from 14 to 8 and reduces the threshold of voting members from 80 to 50 percent has given supporters of the agreement more confidence.
There is some confidence among the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as well.
“We don’t think it’s a longshot,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said Monday. “If everyone votes the same it will pass [under the new bylaws].”
Barnes said he wasn’t sure of the specifics behind the decision to delay layoffs at DDS but acknowledged the administration has delayed some cuts, layoffs and closures in other agencies over the past week.
Last week the Department of Motor Vehicles announced it would delay layoffs and closures at branch offices in Enfield, Danbury, Old Saybrook and New Britain as well as a satellite office in Putnam and photo license centers in Derby, Middletown and Milford.
Cuts to state technical high school sports programs and historic Connecticut River ferries have also been delayed as unions continue the voting process.
Fiscally, the delays make sense, Barnes said.
When the administration learned that the labor agreement had not been ratified, it moved quickly to find a way to keep the budget in balance, he said. At that time they had no idea when, if in fact at all, unions would move to ratify another agreement, he said.
So layoff notices went out. Barnes said if the administration had known the unions’ voting deadlines it might have scheduled the layoffs differently. Now that they do, it makes sense, in some cases to delay closures and layoffs pending the results of the vote, he said.
Closing facilities and then reopening them, letting go of workers and rehiring them can be an expensive process, he said.
The DMV estimated that between facility relocation and leasing costs, payments made to employees for unused vacation and sick time, and unemployment costs, the state would be looking at a bill of about $500,000 if unions end up ratifying the deal.
“Times are tight and no matter what $500,000 is a lot of money,” Malloy spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said.
There’s also the taxpayers, who will suffer from the cuts, to consider, Barnes said.
“We are trying not to put the public through the short-term sacrifice if we can avoid it,” he said.
However long the delays, Barnes said the administration isn’t putting all their eggs in the labor agreement basket.
“We’re not backing down. We are fully prepared in the event that it’s not ratified to go through with the entirety of our plane,” he said.