Christine Stuart photo
Workers rally outside the Labor Department’s Wethersfield offices (Christine Stuart photo)

About two dozen state employees rallied Monday outside the Board of Labor Relations to voice their support for a petition that will give them a choice between unions.

“We want the choice to vote,” Bob Reilly, a member of the P-4 CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 bargaining group said Monday as he stood in line to get into the standing room only hearing.

Reilly, an engineer with the Department of Transportation, said back in the day CSEA was a good union, but it lost its way and became more invested in bolstering the union than its members. That’s why he and hundreds of his colleagues signed petition cards with the United Public Service Employees Union—a union that currently doesn’t represent any state employees.

UPSEU does represent about 100 police unions and local bargaining groups in Connecticut, but has a larger presence in neighboring state’s like New York. It has been trying to pick up state employee unions in Connecticut since at least 2005 when it tried to organize some police dispatchers.

Stan Juber, another DOT worker and member of CSEA.SEIU Local 2001, said morale has been at an all time low amongst members of the P-4 bargaining group since the SEBAC concession package was passed back in August.

In addition, the bargaining group is fractured into two groups—those that want a different union and those who don’t.

“They just raised dues again and every day we’re finding out our health care has gotten worse under the new agreement,” John Vitale, another member of the P-4 bargaining unit added.

Vitale, Juber, and Reilly were just a couple of the state employees who are rallying for a change in their union representation. Nearly 6,000 state employees from five unions have signed cards saying they want to have a vote on which union represents them.

Even though 30 percent the union’s membership returned cards, the Board of Labor Relations must decide if they filed the petition during a time that the current unions were without a contract.

Barbara Resnick, an attorney for UPSEU, told the Board of Labor Relations Monday that the cards were handed out between the first and second votes on the SEBAC agreement. She argued the current contracts were expired during that time. In fact, she argued the contracts expired June 30.

But Saranne Murray of Shipman & Goodwin, who represents the Judicial Branch said the General Assembly endorsed the SEBAC agreement June 30th when it passed legislation in special session to endorse the agreement, even though the unions had yet to agree to it. The unions didn’t conclude the second vote until late August and while the legislature reserved the right to return and accept or reject it, it never did. Instead, it allowed it to be adopted automatically after five days.

“In short, we believe the statute governs in this matter,” Murray told the three-member panel of the Labor Relations Board.

She told the board that there was a collective bargaining agreement in effect when the UPSEU petitions were submitted. She said the next time UPSEU is allowed to file a petition will be in August 2015, a year before the contract expires.

J. William Gagne, an attorney representing one of the SEBAC unions, said he doesn’t believe the Labor Relations Board has the power to overturn the will of the General Assembly.

“I don’t think this board can provide any kind of remedy to the issues that are before us now,” Gagne said.

Christine Stuart iphone photo
Board of Labor Relations hears testimony (Christine Stuart iphone photo)

Brian Doyle, another attorney representing AFT Judicial Professionals, agreed.

“This panel does not have any other option, but to dismiss,” he said.

Resnick, UPSEU’s attorney, argued that the bargaining units filed the petitions between Aug. 1 and Aug. 31 prior to the expiration of the contract. She said she objects to the notion that the window to file closes simply because the General Assembly pre-voted on a matter.

She said the petitions are certainly a matter the Labor Relations Board can decide under the State Employee Relations Act.

The controversial “Attachment H” which says none of the SEBAC unions can go after members of other SEBAC unions only came up in passing at Monday’s hearing, which was continued until Jan. 11. The state and the attorney’s for the current unions rested their case Monday without calling more than one witness. They argued the burden of proof is on UPSEU.

In addition to state employees vying for a change in union leadership, Correction officers like Lisamarie Fontano, president of AFSCME Local 387, attended Monday’s hearing to offer support to her “brothers and sisters” in CSEA/SEIU Local 2001. The petition for the Correctional Captains and Lieutenants was one of the five being discussed Monday.

The National Correctional Employees Union petition for AFSCME’s Correction officers was dismissed last week and Fontano said she just came to offer her support to the captains and lieutenants of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001.

“We’re all in this together. We all work together and we all survive together,” Fontano said.

Larry Dorman, spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, has characterized UPSEU as a “business group trying to poach existing union members,” from other unions instead of going out to organize its own.