Administration removes Yelmini as labor-relations chief

The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy abruptly notified the state’s longtime director of labor relations she is being laid off, leaving surprised union leaders to wonder what the move signals in Malloy’s approach to labor.

Linda J. Yelmini, 64, a labor lawyer who served the administrations of five governors in both classified and unclassified positions, said Friday she was told Thursday that she was being removed and her office reorganized.

“I’ve been laid off as director of the Office of Labor Relations,” Yelmini said. “They told me they intend to put in a political appointee.”

Yelmini said she was told of the layoff by Ben Barnes, the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management. The Office of Labor Relations, which handles everything from contract negotiations to grievances, is a unit of OPM.

“I am now considering my options of other employment and pursuing my legal options,” Yelmini said.

Yelmini’s position is now a classified post, but it offers limited civil-service protection as a “single-person class.” By not being part of a broader class of employees, Yelmini has no ability to use her seniority to claim another job.

The administration had no comment on the reasons for the move. Gian-Carl Casa, who normally acts as spokesman for OPM, declined comment. Barnes was out sick Friday, and the governor’s spokesman, Andrew Doba, had nothing to say.

“We don’t comment on personnel matters,” Doba said.

Union officials said the change was not sought by labor.

“I can tell you this is not something labor either asked for or wanted,” said Daniel Livingston, chief negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents unionized employees on health and retirement issues.

Labor has not been briefed by the administration about the reorganization or the decision to use a political appointee as the lead person on labor issues, an approach used in some other states.

“It came as a surprise to us. We’re actually trying to determine what this signals,” said Andrew Matthews, the president of the Connecticut State Police Union, one of two unions now negotiating a contract on wages with the administration. “We haven’t heard from the administration.”

The other bargaining unit now negotiating over wages is the union representing correction supervisors. The state’s contracts with other bargaining units expire in 2016.

Under a concession deal struck by the administration in 2011, the state’s health and retirement benefits are set for another eight years, but the administration of those deals requires a constant back and forth with labor and management.

Other union officials, who asked not to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Yelmini could be a “formidable and difficult” adversary, but she offered a consistency and competence through changing administrations.

“Has she been difficult and formidable? Yes. But she’s been difficult and formidable through multiple administrations,” one official said. “Nobody has her institutional knowledge. That’s a loss. There’s no other way to calculate it.”

Yelmini has served the administrations of two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent governor.

Labor relations was the consistent thread throughout her career, although she had a number of other assignments, including stints in high-ranking jobs at the state Lottery, the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Public Safety.

Malloy had the overwhelming support of state employee unions in his recent re-election campaign, but labor leaders said their only notice of Yelmini’s layoff came from her, not the administration.

“I don’t know who is making the decisions,” said Matthews, whose union endorsed Malloy in the closing weeks of the campaign. “I think any reasonable person in union leadership would be concerned as to what the meaning of this decision is.”

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