CTNJ file photo
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero (CTNJ file photo)

Union stewards should be paid by their union — not the state — when they are doing their jobs representing colleagues in workplace disputes, Republican House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said in a statement Monday.

It’s the second time in two years that Cafero has called upon the state to stop paying the salaries of union stewards while they are representing their colleagues in workplace grievances.

“The practice of paying union stewards nearly $100 million a year for virtually zero benefits for taxpayers has to stop,” Cafero said in a press release. “The number of stewards has grown. If they are performing vital work for their colleagues in state government that is fine — just let the unions pay for it through their dues.”

Cafero, who raised the same issue back in April 2011, said the number of union stewards has increased from 911 to 1,032 over the past two years. The state was paying 911 stewards a combined $93 million a year. Cafero estimates that the number now exceeds $100 million.

In an email, State Labor Relations Director Linda Yelmini said the number of union stewards has indeed increased. However, she said that Cafero’s $100 million estimate assumes that union stewards spend 100 percent of their work time conducting union business.

“This is simply not true,” Yelmini wrote.

Union officials, like AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Lori Pellitier, have said the amount of time these stewards spend on union issues ranges between a half-hour to 10 hours per week.

“My guess is that the amount of time is more than the 30-minute estimate provided by Ms. Pelletier and less than the 100-percent estimate provided by Mr. Cafero,” Yelmini said.

The laws and contracts stipulating how state employees who serve in a union position can use leave for union business were made years ago and would take legislative action or a collective bargaining process to change, she said.

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, said state workers have made sacrifices “time and again” to help keep the state’s finances stable. He accused Cafero of trying “stir up a frenzy” against state workers.

“As far as I can see, Rep. Cafero spends his time recycling old press releases to distract from the continued refusal of his party leadership to ask Connecticut’s millionaires and big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes,” Dorman said.