A hearing on a petition by the National Correctional Employees Union to decertify AFSCME as the union representing correction officers ended abruptly Wednesday when an NCEU lawyer tried to call Jon T. Pepe as a witness.
Pepe, president of one of the three AFSCME locals currently representing correction officers, had not been subpoenaed for the state Board of Labor Relations hearing but was in the room as an observer. NCEU lawyer John Connor called Pepe about two and a half hours into the hearing.
He declined to testify.
Moments before he was called as a witness, Pepe leaned over in his chair and signaled to another union leader that he would be leaving at 4 p.m. When he was called he told Labor Relations Board Chairwoman Patricia V. Low that he needed to go home and let his dogs out.
“Had I been subpoenaed I would have definitely made arrangements to have my daughter or someone take the dogs out,” he said.
Connor’s request caught AFSCME’s lawyer William Gagne Jr. by surprise. Gagne immediately objected, saying that if Connor wanted Pepe to testify they should have subpoenaed him. Later Wednesday evening, during a phone interview, Pepe said that if he hadn’t already made arrangements to leave he would have happily answered questions. Though he said he had no idea why Connor would want to examine him.
“I’m not even the chief negotiator and they’re not going to call the chief negotiator,” he said.
Following the hearing, Connor would not disclose what questions he had in mind for Pepe. He spent most of the hearing questioning state Director of Labor Relations Linda J. Yelmini about documents relating to the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement passed this summer.
The topic of the hearing was limited to whether or not NCEU had submitted its petition to call a membership vote within an acceptable contract window.
Typically the Labor Board requires such a petition to be filed during the month of August prior to the expiration of the union’s current contract with the state. For correction officers that would have been August 2010. However, the rule allows the board to make exceptions when it sees fit.
NCEU argues that because the correction officers’ contract with the state expired in June, they were operating without a contract and therefore a new window had been opened. The state and AFSCME maintain the window remained shut because both parties were in arbitration. The passage of the SEBAC agreement in August ended the arbitration.
But on Wednesday Connor questioned the legitimacy of the contract.
“There are very serious questions as to when and whether or there was a collective bargaining agreement,” he said. “There are also very large questions as to what that agreement contained.”
Connor was referencing the agreement’s controversial “Attachment H.” The clause, unknown to most state employees until recently, bars state employees from switching unions for five years. Connor said it wasn’t in the agreement the workers ratified.
“If you go on any state website and pull up the agreement you won’t see it,” he said.
He tried to ask Yelmini whether the attachment was added to the agreement after state workers had already voted on it. But the board refused to entertain discussion of the clause.
“We are very well aware of other objections as part of this process. It was the understanding of all parties that those would not be addressed today and they will be addressed when all the other cases have completed the process,” Low said.
She said SEBAC was denied a motion to intervene on the hearing for that exact reason. The attachment will likely be addressed at two other board hearings on Friday.
Pepe said the talk of the clause was especially irrelevant to the hearing regarding the representation of correction officers because theirs was the only contract that expired this year instead of next year. So while other bargaining units may have been within the window to decertify, they were not, he said.
“They were just trying to set up an argument in this hearing to use for hearings down the road,” he said. “It was a fishing expedition.”
The hearing will continue on Oct. 31.