Hamden — Lori J. Pelletier, the president of the Connecticut AFL- CIO, used a Labor Day unity meeting Friday to urge labor leaders to pressure Attorney General George Jepsen to drop his neutrality and embrace an effort by AFT-Connecticut to unionize 196 lawyers in his office.
Organized labor wants Jepsen, a Democrat whose election and re-election were supported by labor, to recognize the union on the basis of 65 percent of his office signing cards supporting unionization, a step that typically triggers an election.
“Now, leadership of AFT, leadership of AFSCME and leadership of the AFL-CIO have reached out to the attorney general’s office to say this is unnecessary, this is a battle that should not be waged, that 65 percent of the workers want a union. They signed a card,” Pelletier said.
Speaking to an audience of more 100 labor leaders and activists gathered to talk about get-out-the-vote efforts for Hillary Clinton and other candidates supported by unions, Pelletier suggested they pose a question to Jepsen, who is not on the ballot again until 2018.
“If you’re at an event and you happen to see the attorney general. would you give him a message: Voluntarily recognize the union. Why waste taxpayers dollars going for an election? Can you do that?” Pelletier asked.
Jan Hochadel, the president of AFT-Connecticut, said the union drive is motivated by a desire to protect wages and benefits by contract, not dissatisfaction with Jepsen or his senior leadership team.
“This is not about the attorney general at all. They very much respect him. They enjoy working with him,” Hochadel said.
The assistant attorneys general had no recourse in February when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy cancelled 3 percent raises for nearly 2,000 non-union employees, who also face higher health costs this fall.
“They did not have a seat at the SEBAC table,” Hochadel said, referring to the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which negotiates health and retirement benefits for unionized state workers. “They had no influence over their future.”
Hochadel said the pressures on employees are expected to continue, given the state’s fiscal challenges.
Jepsen, who is expected to seek re-election to a third term in 2018, did not attend the Labor Day event, where his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, was the featured speaker. Blumenthal is a candidate for re-election this fall.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Comptroller Kevin Lembo, each a potential candidate for governor in 2018, also addressed the crowd, as did U.S. Reps. John B. Larson of the 1st District and Elizabeth Esty of the 5th and two state legislative leaders, Rep. Joe Aresimowicz and Sen. Martin M. Looney.
Jepsen has notified his staff by memo that he no position on unionization.
But Hochadel and Pelletier complained that Jepsen did not stop lawyers opposed to unionization from meeting with an anti-union attorney on state property.
“We received a complaint yesterday from union organizers that some of our employees had met with an anti-union attorney in one of our office buildings during work hours. We checked into this claim and found it to be inaccurate,” said Jaclyn Falkowski, a spokeswoman for Jepsen.
Falkowski said inquiries by the office determined that the meetings were held at the University of Connecticut law school, near an office of the attorney general in Hartford’s West End. The meetings were held at 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., before and after work.
“We can confirm unequivocally that neither the attorney general nor anyone in OAG management had prior knowledge of the meetings or played any part in their occurrence,” Falkowski said. “In fact, the attorney general has not expressed a view about the effort underway for attorneys within the office to organize into a labor union. He is neither supporting nor opposing the organization effort, a process that is overseen by the state Office of Labor Relations and the State Board of Labor Relations and governed by applicable state and federal law.”
Hochadel said the meeting should not have occurred on state property, not just the workplaces of the assistant attorneys general.
AFT-Connecticut filed a petition Monday with the labor-relations board asking to be recognized as the representative of a bargaining unit that would include lawyers with management duties. An initial conference is schedule for Sept. 13.
Does labor accept Jepsen’s assertion he is neutral?
“I take it at face value that he is neutral,” Pelletier said. “I don’t think George would lie about that.”
“I would certainly like to,” Hochadel said. “He’s always been fair and honest with us in the past. I would certainly like to.”