Republicans say state should stop paying for union activity

One out of every 50 state employees is a “union steward,” allowed to conduct union business while on the state payroll, and Republican leaders at the State Capitol are asking why taxpayers are picking up that bill.

Republican leaders said Monday the salary, not including benefits, of the 911 stewards cost the state $93 million a year and want union dues to start paying for union activities. They estimate millions could be saved if the state stopped paying these employees for time spent on union activities.

“This is a system that has gotten out of control,” said Larry Cafero, the House Republican Leader from Norwalk. “We can not afford this… This can no longer go on.”


GOP leaders Rep. Larry Cafaro (l) and Sens. Leonard Fasano and John McKinney: $93 million?

But union leaders say it is common for stewards to do union business on the job, and that the amount of time they spend away from their normal work duties is “minimal.”

“It’s not different then private industry,” said Lori Pelletier, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO Connecticut. Of the GOP’s cost estimate, she said, “I don’t buy it.”

She said she would be surprised if these employees were spending more then 30 minutes a week on union businesses.

But Republican leaders said there are no reporting requirements to track how much time stewards are spending and that needs to change.

“They are allowed to come and go as they please,” said Cafero. He said the stewards average $62,618 in salary and benefits, and one makes $201,698 a year. He also said he has heard some work as few as three days a month at their state job.

Republicans said the Democratic-controlled legislature needs to pass legislation that would have unions paying for the time the stewards are spending outside their state work.

“Step up,” said Sen. John P. McKinney, the Senate Republican leader from Fairfield. “It certainly will save taxpayer dollars.”

But Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Broolyn, said it is highly unlikely the state senate will consider such legislation.

“We welcome all cost-savings ideas, but they must be real. The Republicans admit they have no idea how many dollars their proposal would save, if any,” he said, calling it a “half-baked” proposal.

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for a coalition of state employee bargaining units, said these stewards actually save the state money.

“Stewards help resolve problems before they get larger, in the cheapest and most cost effective way possible, and bring difficult and important issues to the attention of management. The alternative of civil litigation when worker’s rights are violated is many times more expensive,” he said.

Pelletier said contract negotiations are the responsibility of the governor’s office, which Republicans held for 20 years before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office in January.

Malloy said the issue could come up in talks his staff is currently having with labor union leaders.

“It’s an interesting point that was appropriately pointed out again in reminding people of the existence of this position,” he said during a separate press conference. “The reality is that these positions have existed. It’s a matter of past practice. It’s written into a number of contracts… Would I design that system at the moment? No.”