As state correctional workers went to the polls Monday to vote on a negotiated concession agreement, a Massachusetts union was preparing to submit paperwork which it hopes will result in a different vote, one to decertify AFSCME.
To start the process of decertifying a union representing state employees, an opposing union must acquire signed cards of interest from enough members to represent 30 percent of its total membership. In the case of correctional workers that number was 1,500.
Christopher Murphy, executive director of the National Correctional Employees Union, said his union has already obtained well over 2,000 signed “blue cards” from Connecticut prison workers who want to leave AFSCME for his union.
“We had a phenomenal week last week. Correctional officers and support staff really showed us how unhappy they are with their current representation,” he said.
He said someone from his group plans to drive down to Wethersfield today to submit the cards to the state Board of Labor Relations.
The board will have to verify that all the names are valid. It then will investigate the petition, meeting with the current union, the prospective union and the employer, in this case the state. With that information the board will make a decision whether or not to hold an election.
It’s unclear what effect the move to decertify AFSCME will have on the ongoing ratification process for a $1.6 billion labor concession agreement. Correctional employees are scheduled to cast their vote on the revised agreement Monday and Tuesday.
Correction officers and the state are currently in contract negotiations since its current contract expired on June 30.
Murphy believes when the paperwork is filed later today, it will effectively stop the process of contractual negotiations between the state and prison workers. AFSCME has the right to appeal some aspects of the procedures, but he said if the labor board allows a vote it would take place by the end of October.
But according to the Department of Labor, the Board of Labor Relations would not be the party to stop any contractual negotiations. That decision would have to be made by the state and AFSCME, DOL spokeswoman Nancy Steffens said.
AFSCME Local 319 President Jon T. Pepe called NCEU’s move ridiculous.
“It means absolutely nothing,” he said. “The SEBAC agreement is going to pass and we’ll be in contract negotiations by sometime in September.”
Pepe criticized NCEU’s recent actions as his union has struggled to sell a revised concession package to correction workers who have been historically reluctant to sign on to any concession agreements.
For one thing, the group has been waited longer than necessary to make its move, he said.
“They only needed 1,500 cards but for some reason they hung around, getting 500 more,” he said.
And their hanging around has caused disruptions, Pepe said. NCEU has had men posted in the driveways of both Enfield and Carl Robinson Correctional Institution, blocking traffic to hand out the cards, he said. Pepe said he’s surprised none of them have been hit by a car yet.
He said that on more than one occasion the police have been called to both prisons to deal with NCEU representatives trespassing on Department of Corrections property.
Robinson’s Deputy Warden William Faneuff asked the men to leave the premises and they gave him a hard time so the police were called, Pepe said. Faneuff declined to comment.
But Enfield Police Department Deputy Chief Gary Collins said that at around 7:30 a.m. on July 29 an officer was dispatched to the prison after a trespasser was reported. The incident resolved itself after the deputy warden had a discussion with a union organizer about where he was allowed to stand.
“You can’t just wander on to Department of Corrections property,” Collins said.
Pepe called their behavior outrageous and said it has left his members with a sour taste in their mouths.
“I love the way they’ve acted because they’ve ensured our members will stay with AFSCME. Their actions have been so asinine,” he said.
Pepe also said the group is acting to decertify AFSCME at the wrong time. He points to a requirement for state unions that the petition be submitted during the month of August on the year before the expiration of the workers’ current contract. For correction workers that would have been last August.
But according to the Labor Department the requirement is not a hard and fast rule; there are circumstances where the board can allow a vote anyway. And last month Murphy said prospective unions are also allowed to go after a unit when it is operating without a contract. Correctional officer contracts expired on June 30.
Either way, Pepe contends the decertification window is closed. Contractual negotiations are imminent and the union and the state have already decided on an arbitrator, he said.
Besides, the submission of the cards is only the beginning of long process, he said.
“The 30 percent only gets them a seat at the table to make their case,” he said.
He questioned why the Labor Relations Board, if it could, would choose to stall negotiations and why his members would decide to jump ship for another union, which he said is trying to kill a deal that would offer them layoff protection.
“Even if for some reason [the board allows a vote] are members going to pick a union that screwed them out of layoff protection?” he asked.
He and AFSCME spokesman Larry Dorman questioned where the group was last August at the appropriate time to launch such a campaign. The decertification attempt amounts to poaching, and capitalizing on the confusion of their members.
Murphy denied the claim, saying the group was contacted by a large number of Connecticut workers, who asked them if there was any way NCEU could represent them.
“We responded to what I would call an emergency call from members who said, ‘We don’t like what’s going on, we don’t feel we’re being represented and we want a change,’” he said.