Unions pushing for approval as second vote nears conclusion

With the second vote on a state employee concession agreement scheduled to end Wednesday, union leaders were making a last-minute push Tuesday to get members to approve the deal in hopes of averting thousands of layoffs.

At CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 headquarters in Hartford, union leaders and delegates said workplace morale has been hurt by the thousands of layoff notices that have been issued since the agreement was rejected in an initual vote in June. Members are anxious to get the concession issue resolved, they said.

“A lot of people are asking more questions this time around and feeling more comfortable about the answers they’re getting,” said Charlene Bell, a developmental service worker for the Southbury Training School. “People are more open-minded this time around.”

Charlene Bell

Charlene Bell

Bell, along with other union leaders and delegates, were at CSEA/SEIU headquarters to answer questions, distribute information and encourage members still voting on concessions to vote yes.

“It’s all about the anxiety,” said Rosemarie Tate, a dietician with Capitol Region Mental Health Service and Blue Hills Substance Abuse Services. “They want this to be over with and they want to move on. It’s been a rough and long summer.”

Matt O’Connor, spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, or SEBAC, said unions will finish voting Wednesday and he expects the results to be known by midday Thursday.

Several unions already have voted, but in a marked difference from the first vote, the results aren’t being disclosed piecemeal. O’Connor said he couldn’t give any information on the tally so far.

A majority of all union members voting approved the concessions deal in June, but the rules at the time required the memberships of 14 of 15 constituent unions to agree to the change; only 11 did. SEBAC changed the rules for this round to require that a majority of all members and eight of the 15 unions back the deal.

The first vote may have been influenced by widespread claims that the concession agreement would require union members to become part of SustiNet, a state-run insurance program. Union leaders said that has been an issue this time around.

Instead, union members want to know more about the details of a benefits agreement that would apply to all members of the 15 unions that are part of SEBAC. They also want reassurance over what will happen to workers who received layoff notices.

“People want to know more about when they can retire and things like that,” said Bob Alves, a mental health assistant for the Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven. “They’re concerned whether or not their layoff notices will be rescinded. People still have this anxiety over pink slips.”

Union event

Union leaders and delegates at CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 headquarters encouraging a ‘yes’ vote

A memo issued last week by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget chief, Benjamin Barnes, layoffs will be rescinded for members of bargaining units that approve for members of bargaining units that agree to a two-year age freeze, but will continue at units that reject the freeze. He also said non-union members and managers who received layoff notices in the wake of the first concessions rejection will “not necessarily” keep their jobs even if the agreement is approved.

Bell said her office received 17 layoff notices so far.

“The morale is really low,” she said. “We just want to put the focus back on the clients and this has been such a distraction.”

Bell works for the Department of Developmental Services, helping to provide services such as job skills training at the Southbury Training School. She said her co-workers feel anxious over the thought of foregoing important services to the people who need them most if unions reject a second concessions deal.

Deborah DeVivo works as a social worker for the Department of Developmental Services in their East Hartford office. She said that people she’s spoken to fear the loss of critical services, too, especially in state-run respite centers.

“The alternative to approving a deal is devastating,” she said. “It would be such a horrible thing to remove that kind of lifeline for people. Respite centers work with your child, you trust them, you form relationships with them. What do you do in the absence of that service?”

DeVivo said she also feels that members possess a greater understanding of the deal this time and that she sees definite support for approving the deal.

Other union members agreed that support for the deal seems greater the second time around and that anxiety always finds its root in the idea of change, no matter what the stakes.

“It’s human nature to be concerned with change,” said Supervising Judicial Marshal Tom Grodecki of the Connecticut Judicial Branch. “I think there was a lack of clarification the first time, but there will be greater ratification this time.”