SEBAC hopes to save concession deal, but has no clear plan

Leaders of state employee unions said today they will explore salvaging a concession deal rejected by a minority of union members, but they acknowledged having no obvious means under their by-laws to reconsider the vote before the Malloy Administration responds with mass layoff notices.

Two things were clear after an early evening press conference: The SEBAC coalition of 15 unions will be unable to do anything to reverse the rejection before the legislature meets Thursday in response to the failure, and its leaders are frustrated by a voting structure that thwarted a voting majority.

Eleven of 15 unions, a majority of 34 bargaining units and nearly 60 percent of all participating members voted to ratify the agreement, which would have provided job security for four years at the cost of a two-year wage freeze and changes in health and retirement benefits.

“That is an unacceptable outcome, and we’re going to explore every way we possibly can to produce a different outcome,” said Daniel E. Livingston, the chief negotiator for the coalition.

Ratification required approval by 14 of 15 unions, a provision adopted decades ago when the union coalition’s biggest concern was that a bare majority might agree to the deferral of pension contributions, destablizing the pension system, leaders said.

Acknowledging that the coalition cannot quickly act reverse the rejection, the leadership said their goal is to determine if SEBAC can change its bylaws, offer a counter-proposal, or even explore a new vote prior to layoffs taking effect Sept. 1.

After an all-day meeting at a union hall on Capitol Avenue, a short drive from the state Capitol, SEBAC offered no concrete plan other than to begin immediately reaching out to its membership to gauge interest in somehow putting the concessions back on the table.

“It’s not up to us. It’s up to the members,” said Patrice Peterson, the president of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001, one of the 15 unions that comprise SEBAC, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. Her union voted yes.

Seated to her left was Sal Luciano, the executive director of AFSCME Council 4, whose membership rejected his recommendation to approve the labor savings. Presidents of two other unions representing state police and judicial marshals, who rejected the deal, did not attend.

“While we respect those people who voted no, we also want to use our creativity  to see if we can respect those 11 units outside AFSCME” who voted yes, Luciano said.

Roy Occhiogrosso, the senior adviser to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said SEBAC’s explorations will change nothing in the near term.

“The governor has to plan going forward as if there is no agreement, because right now there is no agreement,” he said. “His job is make sure there’s a balanced budget in place on July 1 that is balanced, with no gimmicks.”

On paper, the rejection of the tentative agreement reached a month ago leaves the biennial budget unbalanced by $700 million in the first year and $900 million in the second, although independent analysts have not verified the value of the deal.

The provisions included a two-year wage freeze, as well as harder-to-define savings projected from a new health plan that would encouraged employees, especially those with some chronic diseases, to maintain a schedule of health screening visits.

Malloy said earlier today he worked over the weekend to lessen the number of layoffs necessary to balance the budget, and Occhiogrosso said that no layoff notices are expected to go out before next week.

“There’s certainly some time before some of the impact is really felt in terms of job losses and if in that time, SEBAC can figure out a way to alter the current scenario, then it’s certainly something he would take a look at,” Occhiogrosso said of the governor. “But he can’t rely on that happening.”

But Peterson made clear that SEBAC has no easy path. About 57 percent of the participating members voted to ratify the tentative agreement, but the coalition’s bylaws required that 14 of the 15 unions approve and that unions voting in favor represent 80 percent of all unionized state employees.As a practical matter, the 80-percent threshold meant one thing: ratification was not possible unless AFSCME Council 4, which represents about 30 percent of unionized employees, was in agreement.

“Simply rejecting the agreement poses an extreme risk, not only to the democratic will of the majority, but to the services we provide to the public and to the economic recovery upon which, ultimately, all of us  depend,” Peterson said.

But ignoring the bylaws also is unacceptable, she said.

The 11 unions to vote yes:

  • New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199/SEIU, representing 7,700 nurses, doctors, social workers, technicians and others in a various of agencies and facilities, including the UConn Health Center.
  • AAUP at the University of Connecticut, representing 2,000 faculty and researchers at the main campus in Storrs and regional campuses in West Hartford, Waterbury, Torrington, Stamford and Avery Point.
  • Connecticut Association of Prosecutors, representing 260 state prosecutors.
  • Connecticut Federation of School Administrators, representing 61 principals and others at 18 vocational technical high schools.
  • Connecticut Police and Fire union, representing about 900 public-safety personnel across state government, with the exception of state police officers.
  • AFT Connecticut, representing 6,800 employees in higher education, health care, vocational education and other areas.
  • AAUP in the Connecticut State University system, representing 1,150 faculty, counselors and others.
  • AAUP at the UConn Health Center, representing 550 faculty.
  • Administrative & Residual Union, representing 3,300 state administrative workers.
  • Congress of Community Colleges, representing 2,000 faculty and professional staff.
  • CSEA/SEIU Local 2001, representing 3,900 workers, ranging from bridge inspectors to state police supervisors.

The four unions to vote no:

  • Connecticut Employees Union Independent, representing 4,500 maintenance and service employees.
  • AFSCME Council 4, representing 15,600 employees across state government, inlcuding correction officers, social workers, higher-education administrators, and clerical workers.
  • Connecticut State Police Union, representing 1,150 troopers, sergeants and master sergeants.
  • IBPO/SEIU Local 731, representing 750 judicial marshals.