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Malloy Inserts Himself Into Labor Dispute

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 12, 2012 5:30am
(10) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Town News, Newington, Health Care, Labor

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Gov. Dannel Malloy hasn’t enjoyed the easiest relationship with the state’s labor unions since taking office, but he was on the picket line Wednesday morning in support of striking healthcare workers.

It wasn’t the first time the governor has gotten involved in the ongoing contract dispute between Healthbridge, a New Jersey-based nursing home company, and the New England Health Care Workers’ Union SEIU 1199. In December, after the dispute led to a lockout at one of the companies nine Connecticut facilities, Malloy issued a statement urging both sides to “find a way to work out their differences.”

But that hasn’t happened and according SEIU 1199 spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff negotiations effectively ended in mid-June. Since then Healthbridge has implemented a new contract on its employees, which includes expensive changes to their health benefits, and the elimination of pensions contributions and paid lunches, she said.

“Every benefit that made these jobs worth having… they’ve ended unilaterally,” Chernoff said.

Edmund Remillard, a spokesman for Healthbridge, said the union is to blame for the breakdown in negotiations.

“We had been negotiating in good faith with the union when it chose to abandon negotiations, jobs and our residents. For 17 months, the union made untenable demands while refusing to engage,” he said in a statement.

“Despite this distraction brought on by the union, we continue to provide our residents with the highest quality care,” Remillard added.

But last week the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint finding that Healthbridge “failed and refused to bargain in good faith with the union” when it made the contract changes.

Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman were welcomed guests on the picket line at Newington Health Care Center, where employees have been striking for just over a week. Eva Fal, a dietary aid worker of 16 years, said it was appropriate for the governor to get involved in the dispute because health care is an issue that affects everyone in the state.

Malloy agreed, saying “we’re all going to get old someday,” but he said the labor board’s complaint made it pretty clear Healthbridge hasn’t been playing by the rules. 

“I’m the governor and I can’t go to every picket line across the state every time and quite frankly there’s a process to these things, but what is quite clear is that process is not being respected by Healthbridge,” he said.

As governor, Malloy has had a strong track record among unionized private sector workers. As he finished up his remarks, the healthcare workers gathered around him chanted “thank you.” In May, construction workers rallied around him after the passage of a bill allowing public entities to negotiate working conditions with labor unions before a construction project goes up for bidding.

However, his relationship with public sector unions has suffered since taking office. Malloy took over as the state was facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit. It wasn’t long before he announced he’d be seeking $2 billion in benefit concessions from state workers to help close it. Last summer his administration engaged in contentious negotiations with the state employee unions that led to a $1.6 billion concession package.

The administration has had a public falling out with the state police union, a bargaining unit which refused to ratify the concessions. That dispute has most recently led to state troopers voting overwhelmingly to profess “no confidence” in the police leadership Malloy appointed.

This year, the governor also became the target of attack ads from the teachers unions after his education reform package included proposals unpopular with educators.

Larry Dorman, spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, said the contrast between Malloy’s relationship with private and public sector unions is a natural one.

“This is a governor who’s tried to chart a different path in terms of supporting workers rights and building relationships with public and private workers,” he said.

Though Dorman acknowledges that Malloy’s relationship with state workers is still tense, he said it’s inevitable given he’s their boss.

“Employer-employee relationships are naturally tense and fraught with distrust. That’s normal. Certainly last year’s SEBAC negotiations created some raw nerves but we’re moving forward,” he said.

Even if there’s distrust, Dorman said he doesn’t doubt that Malloy is genuine in his support of workers rights, a quality that distinguishes him from other governors, like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. On Wednesday, Malloy said he didn’t want to see union-busting come to Connecticut.

“Let’s be honest, what Healthbridge is attempting to do illegally is to break the union. That’s what they want to do. They want to be the new model in the state of Connecticut and we don’t want them to be that model,” he said.

But for Chris Morrell, a chef who’s been working for Healthbridge for 30 years, said the jury is still out on the governor’s labor record.

“His story is still to be written. I think he made some of the cutbacks he thought were necessary. But coming out here today, it shows he’s getting back to his roots,” Morrell said.

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(10) Comments

posted by: state_employee | July 12, 2012  7:37am

Oh please, what a joke.  This guy will take any opportunity for a photo op.  He doesn’t give a rats behind about workers.

posted by: kenneth_krayeske | July 12, 2012  9:34am

There are days when I feel Gov. Malloy is a hack, like when he lets Roy Occhiogrosso recklessly attack a critic. Then there are days when I say, this is the first time in 30 or 40 years that we have had a governor in Connecticut who understands right from wrong in the workplace.  Contrast Malloy’s picketing with Rowland’s strikebreaking of 1199. The two couldn’t be farther apart.  Gov. Malloy, we are proud of you, and the support you are giving our friends and family who fight this union battle. Woody Guthrie would be singing a song for you.

posted by: kenneth_krayeske | July 12, 2012  9:35am

What’s even cooler is Hugh McQuaid’s photo captured a shot of the Gov.‘s probably unhappy bodyguard having to protect the governor while he mingles with all those left-wing commie pinko hippie types. Hilarious.

posted by: DirtyJobsGUy | July 12, 2012  10:16am

The photo and story show the most complex and dysfunctional system in State Government.  The State funds the nursing home care of Medicaid recipients.  The State’s interest is the lowest cost for specified services.  SEIU’s objective is the highest cost for nursing home care, which they get by supporting friendly Politicians.  The strike is just a photo op.  NO Governor should ever do this as he is ultimately responsible for executing the funding.

posted by: Noteworthy | July 12, 2012  10:20am

So Malloy arrives fresh off another trip of distractions and hob knobbing while he polishes his national apple - just in time to pander. Great. That’s what we need is a Panderer and Traveler in Chief while the jobs and a billion dollar financial impact floats South.

posted by: ALD | July 12, 2012  2:21pm

How can anyone call this a photo op????  Where was Blumenthal??

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | July 12, 2012  2:26pm

How could you union workers trust Dan Malloy.Speak to the Teachers Union and State Poilce Union and ask them how he sold out both of there unions.

posted by: Hugh McQuaid | July 12, 2012  4:24pm

Hugh McQuaid

Not to worry ALD, Sen. Blumenthal was there last week. From a July 6 press release:
(Hartford, CT) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) will meet with striking workers of the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, to support their calls for fair contracts and affordable benefits. He will meet with workers at a nursing home in Newington.
Since July 3, hundreds of workers at five nursing homes across the state have been striking against New Jersey-based HealthBridge.

posted by: Reasonable | July 13, 2012  12:49pm

Is Malloy campaigning to ge Joe Biden’s job as vice president?  Monday—Malloy went to Houston to address the NAACP National Convention looking for the 96% Democratic-sure black support with a speech made, sounding like someone who wants the vice presidency. Watch your back, Joe Biden!  It appears that Dannel Malloy is suggesting to Barack Obama—that he is available for Biden’s job!

posted by: Todd Peterson | July 13, 2012  10:16pm

Both Noteworthy and Reasonable have interesting points here. 

The hedge funds could be starting a protracted migration migration to Florida, meanwhile King Dannel is acting like a wannabe for national office while Connecticut burns…