Some unions might skip new vote on a new concessions deal

Some state employee unions whose members endorsed a previous concession deal might not hold a second ratification vote if a new tentative agreement now being discussed with the Malloy Administration is built around the same terms as the original, a union spokesman said Tuesday.

Hours later, he downplayed the possibility, which was raised by unions representing higher-education faculty, many of whom have scattered for the summer.

Matt O’Connor, a spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, said Tuesday afternoon that the question of whether a new rank-and-file vote would be necessary on an “essentially unchanged” deal is a decision for each of the 15 unions in the coalition.

“That’s being worked out,” O’Connor said. “That’s an individual decision made by individual unions. That’s not a SEBAC decision.” At a minimum, he said, SEBAC leadership would vote on a new tentative agreement.

But O’Connor, who also made a similar statement Tuesday afternoon on former Gov. John G. Rowland’s talk show on WTIC AM, issued a clarifying statement Tuesday night saying that it was possible, but unlikely a union would ratify a new agreement without a vote of the members.

The clarification came after union leaders received complaints about the possibility of ratification without a vote, an indication of the strain within the SEBAC coalition, whose leaders are scrambling to stop Malloy’s plan to eliminate than 6,500 jobs as a way to make up the savings expected in the rejected concession deal.

Eleven of the 15 unions voted to ratify the previous tentative agreement, which failed under SEBAC bylaws that required a positive vote by 14 unions. Under bylaws amended Monday, a simple majority of eight unions is required.

A secondary requirement is that the eight unions must represent a majority of the unionized work force. To ratify the deal under the old rules, the 14 unions in favor had to represent 80 percent of union members.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reiterated Tuesday that he is open to new language clarifying the terms of the concessions and labor savings, but basics of the deal will not be re-negotiated.

Those include a two-year wage freeze and changes to health and retirement benefits, including an older retirement age, beginning in 2022. In return, Malloy is promising four years of job security and no increased health costs.

New talks with the administration began this afternoon. At the same time, O’Connor said, individual unions are talking about whether they would need to hold new voting if their members already have endorsed the same terms.

“We’re not there yet,” O’Connor said. “It’s just one of many issues that the union leaders are considering.”

Thomas Cooke, a professor at the University of Connecticut, said UConn’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors broached the idea two weeks ago that unionized faculty might not vote on a new deal, since they had overwhelmingly accept the first tentative agreement.

“The union is just going to shove it down our throats,” said Cooke, who objected to how the bylaws were changed by a vote of SEBAC leaders.

With 11 of the 15 unions endorsing the first tentative agreement, it is possible that at least the health and retirement changes could be declared ratified without a new vote by the rank and file.

A majority vote by SEBAC is binding on all the unions, regarding health and retirement benefits. But individual unions have the ability to act separately to reject a wage freeze.