Looks Like Second Time Will Be The Charm
Neither Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nor the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition would comment on the vote for the $1.6 billion concession package Wednesday. But their cheerful demeanors — coupled with vote tallies from union sources — made it apparent that the second time was the charm.
Several bargaining groups, including the three locals that represent 4,800 Correction Officers who voted against the agreement in June, voted in favor of it this time. Union sources say the NP-4 bargaining unit voted 2,057 to 1,154 for the health care and pension portion of the contract, and 2,476 to 731 for the wage concessions.
The Connecticut Employees Union Independent Local 511, which represents 4,500 service and maintenance workers, voted 2,383 to 811 in favor of the contract this time, according to its website. Last time, they were one of the four unions that helped defeat the agreement.
“This has been a process that all of us wish we never had to experience,” Patrice Peterson, president of CSEA SEIU Local 2001, wrote in an email to her members Wednesday evening.
As one of the 15 union leaders, Peterson told her members that she will cast her vote in favor of the agreement Thursday morning. CSEA voted 2,349 to 1,083 in favor of the agreement this time. And even though they passed it last time by about 643 votes, they passed it this time by 1,266 votes.
The state’s Administration and Residual Employees union announced on its website Wednesday that its members approved the proposal 1,604 to 687.
“Clearly from the coverage they’re doing a better job,” Malloy said Wednesday of the union’s ability to get information to its members.
“First of all they got out ahead of it as opposed to waiting. I think they were slow off the ball the last time. And I think they’ve taken an active role in beating back the untruths. Again, because I think they were slow in getting off the ball, it was hard to do last time,” he said.
However not everyone felt the union effort was better the second time around. Department of Children and Families investigator and New Haven Alderwoman Jacqueline James-Evans said it felt the same to her.
After the first concession agreement failed, James-Evans told the New Haven Independent she felt unions had done “a terrible job” of selling the deal to members.
As voting on the clarified agreement drew to a close Wednesday, she said not much had changed. She said it seems like common sense for unions to educate their members about what they’re voting on, she said.
James-Evans, who voted “yes” both times, said she’s optimistic the deal will be ratified, but it won’t be because of an improvement in union effort.
“It still feels the same. I think overall most people will support it because they don’t want to see their co-workers laid off,” she said.
What has changed was the work climate, she said. The first time they voted, state workers knew that layoffs were likely if the deal failed, but since then folks have seen their co-workers forced to pack up and leave, she said. That hit close to home.
“It was so tangible that it changed the climate,” she said.
But it’s likely AFSCME Local 391 President Jon T. Pepe would disagree.
Pepe said last week that he was able to accomplish more in 15 minutes by talking to Correction officers over the past few days than he was able to do in a month prior to the first vote.
He said that during his tour of Osborn Correctional Institute and MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institute he ran into workers who just didn’t understand the information from the unions last time, and by default voted against the agreement.
“They voted ‘no’ as a defensive mechanism,“ Pepe said last week.
Most of the misinformation centered around the health care changes. Pepe said he was able to put to rest some of their apprehension about the health care package by reassuring them that they get to keep the health care they already have and won’t be paying more for it if they visit their doctor for regular check-ups.
“Most said they already visit their doctor, so it wasn’t an issue after a brief conversation,” Pepe said.
Even though all the information was written down before or explained at informational gatherings, which were voluntary, some workers still didn’t understand what was in the deal, he said.
Before the first vote, he assumed the 1,800 employees in the union would come to him and ask questions or attend one of the informational sessions, but that’s not what happened. He said attendance wasn’t what he expected at the informational sessions and his phone wasn’t ringing off-the-hook.
“Every question they had they were thinking the opposite of what was actually going to happen,” Pepe said.
Voting was scheduled to conclude at 8 p.m. Wednesday and SEBAC spokesman Matt O’Connor said he expected the ballot counting process to continue late into the night. Union leaders are expected to announce the results Thursday at a 12:30 p.m. press conference at the CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 Union Hall in Hartford.
Following the rejection of the first agreement in June, the unions changed their bylaws to make passage of the clarified agreement easier. Instead of needing approval by 14 of the 15 unions and 80 percent of the voting membership, now they need only 8 of the 15 unions and a majority of the voting membership to ratify the deal.
Eleven of the 15 unions ratified the deal the first time, so by changing the bylaws critics argue that SEBAC all but made certain the deal would pass the second time. In addition, it gave them time to counter misinformation being circulated, specifically about the health care portion of the deal.
Malloy has said the bargaining groups that vote in favor of the wage concession portion of the deal will get their jobs back in addition to four years of layoff protection. However, it’s still unclear at the moment, with the votes still being counted, whether every bargaining group will receive that no-layoff guarantee.
In addition to layoff protection, the deal offered no wage increases for two years, followed by three years of 3 percent increases; no furlough days; shaved cost-of-living increases for pensions; it raised the retirement age by three years for those retiring after 2022; and instituted a new $35 co-pay on emergency room visits. One employee used the emergency room 150 times in one year, according to union officials.