Veteran state prosecutor Lisa Herskowitz hoped to champion the cause this year of state employees unhappy with the concession package negotiated by union leaders and the governor. Herskowitz took their complaints to the state Board of Labor Relations, but the board shot down her arguments this week.
On Dec. 16 the board found no merit in various allegations she made against the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, the Connecticut Association of Prosecutors, the Department of Criminal Justice, and the governor.
Herskowitz’s complaint rested on the claim that SEBAC negotiated union employee wage concessions with representatives of Malloy’s office when it is only statutorily authorized to negotiate changes to health care and pension benefits. Changes to wages are up to the individual bargaining units to negotiate.
“They have effectively but illegally and intentionally sucked 45,000 state employees into one monster bargaining unit by usurping our bargaining agents and subjecting all state employees to their illegal rule,” she wrote.
However, the board found nothing that precludes SEBAC from negotiating other benefits, if both it and the state agree.
“Coalition bargaining is permissible for other subjects other than pension and health benefits by agreement of the parties,” the labor board wrote.
Another claim contended that SEBAC violated its own bylaws when it waived a provision requiring it to give members 30-days notice before it amends its bylaws. The coalition waived the notice in July so it could make the requirements to ratify a second agreement vote less stringent.
“Waiving it violated the duty of fair representation. I believe the members should have been allowed to vote on the bylaws change. At the very least, they should have been given adequate notice and an opportunity to protest it,” Herskowitz wrote.
But the board found the reasons the coalition gave for the waiver were “understandable” and “not intentionally dishonest or misleading.” The unions were facing thousands layoffs and an August deadline established by Malloy.
“SEBAC contends that even if this action did violate Section 9 of its bylaws, there was no negative impact to its decision to waive the 30 day notice requirement,” the recommendation said.
Herskowitz also made a number of claims alleging that her union, CAP, had violated its own bylaws. During the first vote on the agreement, the union did not allow a separate vote on the SEBAC agreement and the unit agreement, she said. The board agreed.
“Her assertion is correct that this did not give her the option to reject by itself, the wage and other provisions in the CAP unit agreement,” the recommendation said.
However, it said it is “an uncontested fact” that the second vote featured two separate questions, one for each agreement. Even if the union did violate its bylaws, the breach alone is not enough to say it had not provided fair representation, the board said.
Besides, the board “summarily dismissed” allegations of CAP violating its bylaws because the union didn’t actually have operational bylaws.
The board also recommended dismissing Herskowitz’s claims that Malloy and the Criminal Justice Department coerced state employees into voting for the agreement.
Herskowitz’s complaint said Malloy bullied and coerced union members to vote yes. He repeatedly threatened layoffs and increased the number of projected layoffs from 4,500 to 7,500 in an attempt to scare union members into voting yes, she said.
“This was extremely coercive,” she wrote. “He and the union leaders had already made it clear many times that if the agreement was rejected, there would be layoffs. The governor’s repeated threats were not intended to furnish information; they were intended to coerce people into voting ‘yes.’”
The board said that the state must be able to decide to lay off employees and eliminate positions.
“Such decisions are based by and large on budgetary conditions and there is no question that the state of Connecticut was facing a significant budget deficit before and during the entire SEBAC discussions,” it said.
Herskowitz did not show that Malloy’s public statements were designed to undermine state employees or their unions, the board said.
Another complaint alleged that the governor was trying to coerce prosecutors when he appeared briefly at one of their mandatory training sessions, which took place on the same day they were voting on the SEBAC agreement.
Malloy, who was coincidentally in the same building for another event, spoke for about 10 minutes about his days as a prosecutor, not about the SEBAC agreement, the board said.
“It did not constitute a meeting that could be described as so coercive as to interfere with employees’ statutory rights and/or interfere with the administration of the union,” the recommendation said.
Herskowitz has 14 days to file an appeal of the recommendation. If she does the board will schedule a formal hearing to decide on the case. If not the complaint will be dismissed.