Sen. Joe Markley’s testimony to the Labor Relations Board was slow-going Wednesday as virtually every question posed to him by lawyer Barbara Resnick was met with a chorus of objections from a room full of lawyers.
The hearing was the last of a series necessitated by a petition by the United Public Service Employees Union to allow an election over who gets to represent a handful of bargaining groups currently represented by other unions.
The state and the incumbent unions have maintained that state employees essentially closed the window to switch unions when they voted to approve the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement and the bargaining unit agreements in August.
But Resnick, a lawyer for UPSEU, is hoping the labor board will consider the fact that Attachment H, the clause that includes the contract bar, wasn’t in the language of the agreement upon which state workers voted.
The attachment has become a contentious issue among union members, some of whom say they wouldn’t have voted for the agreement if they’d known it existed.
Wednesday’s hearing, held at a Labor Department building in Wethersfield, reflected that contention. It hiccuped and coughed over the finish line a full hour after the building was scheduled to close.
Over the course of the four-hour hearing, lawyers at times threw their hands in the air, groaned at questions, spoke over one another, and sometimes objected to questions before the questioner had finished asking them.
Labor Relations Board Chairwoman Patricia V. Low asked both sides several times to stop talking over each other, expressing concerns that the court reporter could not keep up with several people talking simultaneously.
Markley said he was asked by Resnick to testify and agreed because it seemed the union members weren’t being treated fairly. But most of the questions he was asked by Resnick were objected to immediately on grounds that they were irrelevant or blatantly leading the witness.
AFSCME lawyer William Gagne Jr. said many of Resnick’s questions were completely irrelevant to the proceedings, such as when she asked Markely whether he was aware of how Attachment H impacted the window to switch unions.
“What in God’s name is the relevancy of that?” he said, interrupting before Markley could answer.
Gagne also questioned whether Markley constituted an expert witness in the area of statute changes. He suggested that while he may be a state senator, Markley’s knowledge of the status of laws regarding union contracts was likely no better than anyone else’s.
“We could call the lady at the front and ask her what her knowledge is,” he said, referring to the woman working security at the building’s front desk.
When lawyers for the state and the unions got their chance to cross examine Markley, it was Resnick’s turn to object. After she objected several times to a question posed to Markley by attorney Saranne Murray, Low told her to rephrase her question.
“I’ll rephrase my question if I can be guaranteed I can ask the question without interference,” Murray responded, sounding exasperated.
At times, Markley looked amused by the back-and-forth, looking around the room and grinning after one of his answers was cut off. After a while he took to waiting for the objection before he started to answer.
After completing his testimony, Markley joked with a reporter that he was “not really sure of my own name at this point.”
“The percentage of the questions that were objected to gives you the feeling this was something of legalistic exercise,” he said.
Legalistic exercise or otherwise, the board will have to decide whether the absence of the attachment is cause to allow an election to switch unions to proceed.
Resnick said the vote should take place. She called on former P-4 Council President John Vitale, who testified he wouldn’t have voted for the agreement if he’d known about the attachment. She tried to enter as evidence an affidavit saying the same, and which was signed by hundreds of other members.
That suggestion was met with objections from several other lawyers, which Low sustained.
“Do you really think it’s relevant how many people say they wouldn’t have voted for it?” she asked.
The incumbent unions don’t deny that the attachment wasn’t in the written materials provided to employees, but rather say that it is standard boilerplate legal language that doesn’t change the SEBAC agreement. SEBAC lawyer Barry Scheinberg said state law is clear that the petition window closes once workers have a contract.
“Statute provides a contract bar. You can’t have an election when there’s a valid contract. That’s the whole enchilada,” he said.
Lawyers from all parties have until April 2 to file briefs for the case.