(Updated 3:40 p.m.)It was an odd political pairing. Two Republican lawmakers stood alongside union members Thursday arguing that its members should have the right to vote to switch unions.
The matter currently before the Labor Relations Board pits several State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition unions against the United Public Service Employee Union, which believes they collected enough cards last August to allow for a vote.
It is the first time in this ongoing battle that pits union against union that a lawmaker has voiced their support for UPSEU.
Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, who has been fighting against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s executive orders which allow personal care attendants and daycare workers to unionize, said his support of the union members in this case is not in conflict with that position.
“I think in both cases the common thread is the fact that the state government, that the administration is pushing a particular agenda in terms of the union,” Markley said. “In this case preventing a group from having the right to choose what union they want to have representing them.”
In the case of the controversial SEBAC agreement, which the legislature voted to ratify before the second vote by the union members, it created a process that did not exist, Markley said.
The same is true for the executive orders. He said he would not have felt same way if it had come through the legislature.
“I would have felt like I had perhaps lost, but I had lost a fair game,” Markley said. “In that case, instead a decision was made outside of the rules, outside of the process to get an end which the administration desired.”
Markley was also one of the 30 senators during a June special session who voted along with his Democratic and Republican colleagues in favor of legislation which would have changed the way state employee pensions are calculated.
“They’re being supported on this particular issue, which is an issue of their right to choose” Markley said.
Rep. Chris Coutu, R-Norwich, tried to make the case that Malloy’s administration is motivated to keep the current union membership with SEBAC because it benefits it politically.
Barbara Resnick, the attorney for UPSEU, said it’s unusual that the state has retained two outside law firms to attend all formal and informal meetings on this issue. The law firms, Shipman & Goodwin, was retained by the Division of Criminal Justice, and Siegel O’Connor was retained by the Judicial branch, neither are executive branch agencies.
Coutu said the state’s use of two outside law firms to help SEBAC fight to remain the only union the state has to deal with just proves that the governor knows he will lose political support, if he doesn’t support them.
“It’s another angle that there is money being lost here for the governor and his team politically,” Coutu said.
He said UPSEU doesn’t use their member dues to fight political games.
What do the members think?
“I find it kind of annoying that we don’t have any Democrats standing up for our right to vote,“ John Vitale, past president of the P-4 Council, said Thursday. “Whatever side you fall on it’s a fundamental right to vote.”
He said there are members he knows who want to stay in their current CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 union, but believe the membership should have the right to vote.
Stephen Anderson, the current P-4 Council president, said the workers at the Capitol press conference today were the same workers who opposed the SEBAC agreement. He they’re still bitter the $1.6 billion concession package passed the second time by a majority of the membership. The package made changes to health and pension benefits.
“It speaks volumes that these individuals along with UPSEU have chosen to align themselves with some of the most notorious, anti-union legislators in the state,” Anderson said.
The current battle at the Labor Relations Board is over “Attachment H” which the state and SEBAC argue doesn’t allow UPSEU to decertify any of the SEBAC unions.
The clause is being used to block employees trying to oust the current unions that represent them. Many employees complained that they never saw the attachment before they voted on the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement.
Resnick said that’s because it wasn’t even finished yet. She said they didn’t know about the agreement so they couldn’t have anticipated they were voting to give away their right to choose which union represents them going forward. She argued the legislature also didn’t know about the agreement when it voted to pre-ratify it.
J. William Gagne, an attorney representing one of the SEBAC unions, has said he doesn’t believe the Labor Relations Board has the power to overturn the will of the General Assembly which accepted the agreement, including the Attachment H.
“The legislature could pass a statute saying there’s no more Labor Board and that’s the end of it,” Gagne has said.
The SEBAC unions have maintained that Attachment H is standard legal language, which doesn’t allow any of the SEBAC membership to go after each others’ members.