Regents may need union permission to suspend three of the illegal raises

While the Board of Regents for Higher Education has pledged to immediately suspend all 21 pay raises granted illegally by its former president over the past 10 months, it won't be that simple for three of those salary increases.

That's because three system office staff who received wage hikes are unionized employees, represented by an education professionals bargaining unit within Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

And changes both in compensation and in working conditions for unionized personnel cannot be made without negotiating with union representation.

"Our union was not aware that our members received the increases, but that doesn't mean they're not entitled to them," Council 4 spokesman Larry Dorman said Monday. Dorman declined further comment while the union reviews the circumstances behind the raises.

Five percent increases were granted, starting June 29, to:

  • Sonia Gagne, a senior associate, whose pay rose from $84,483 to $88,707;
  • Huyen Woods, a consultant, whose pay rose from $57,351 to $60,220;
  • Peggy Leggett, a secretary-level 2, whose pay rose from $55,910 to $58,705, and whose title was changed to executive assistant level 1.

All three workers were asked to take on additional job duties in connection with the raises, according to the system office.

But while these three were getting raises, most of state government was ending the first fiscal year of a two-year wage freeze that runs in most union contracts -- including the education professionals bargaining unit in AFSCME Council 4 -- through June 30, 2013.

State labor law required that those additional duties and pay changes be negotiated with the union. And while those negotiations didn't happen beforehand, labor law also requires the Board of Regents to negotiate if it now seeks to suspend those raises.

"These and other issues will be examined and reviewed by the Board of Regents' Special Committee on Administration," system spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan Johnson said Monday. "Clearly there were processes and protocols that should have been followed, but weren't, and the committee has been tasked with formulating the necessary procedures going forward."

The pay freeze was one of the largest components in a union concession package sought by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and ratified by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition in August 2011 to help close a major budget deficit.

Authorizing raises in the face of that wage freeze was one of the principal reasons cited by leaders of the legislature's Higher Education Committee last week when they called for the regents' system's top official, President Robert A. Kennedy, to resign.

Both Kennedy and the regents' system's second-highest-ranking administrator, Executive Vice President Michael P. Meotti, resigned Friday. The board nominated former University of Connecticut President Philip E. Austin to fill Kennedy's post on an interim basis until a permanent successor can be found.

Last Tuesday -- one day after The Mirror first disclosed that Meotti had received a $49,000 raise and that other executives in the system office had received pay hikes as well -- Kennedy announced he had "mistakenly" authorized 21 raises during the past 10 months without approval by the system's governing board.

State law and the appointed board's bylaws state that compensation is the Board of Regents' responsibility.

Legislators also criticized the raises, worth just under $300,000, given that college students faced both a tuition hike and cuts in financial aid this year.

Regents' system officials said many staff were asked to take on more duties and that the extra salaries were covered by an administrative reorganization effort that still produced a net savings of $5.5 million. Yet legislative critics said that all savings from the reorganization should be redirected to support academic programs.