State Prosecutor Takes On SEBAC
The State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have coerced and demonized dissenting union members, according to a labor complaint filed by an assistant state’s attorney from Manchester Superior Court.
The complaint was filed with the state Labor Relation Board by Lisa Herskowitz, a state prosecutor of 17 years. She lodges a number of allegations at the governor and SEBAC, claiming the coalition violated its own bylaws and overstepped its negotiating authority.
SEBAC had no authority to negotiate wage concessions for the labor agreement that it “forced union members to vote on in June,” Herskowitz wrote. She complained that her union, which approved the agreement by a slim majority, was not even given the option of voting on the wage package separately.
She said this underscored the “the fact that our wages were negotiated by SEBAC and not separately by our own union as required.”
The coalition violated its own bylaws by even reopening the standing pension and healthcare agreement and opening the 2009 wage agreement without letting members vote to on whether they should be opened, according to the complaint.
Once the agreement was opened, Herskowitz alleged SEBAC carried out the negotiations with the Malloy administration in secret without taking any input from the rank and file.
“SEBAC basically said ‘here it is, take It or leave it, and if you leave it, there will be layoffs and the state will be economically devastated.’ This was highly coercive,” she wrote.
She also implicated the Division of Criminal Justice and Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, who she said tried to squash any negative commentary over the agreement. After an employee used a state email account to communicate concerns about changes to the state employee healthcare package, Kane issued a memo instructing employees not to use their work emails for that purpose, she said.
And yet Kane allows employees to regularly email each other about discounts at BJ Wholesale Club, she wrote.
“Attorney Kane’s action in closing down the only practical avenue we had for communicating with other members as a group was totally unfair. His memo coerced us into silence to prevent negative communication on the agreement,” Herskowitz said in the complaint.
Soon after Kane’s memo Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman used her state email account to suppress rumors that the healthcare package was somehow connected to SustiNet. Kane did not comment on the appropriateness of Wyman’s email, she said.
Herskowitz’s complaint said Malloy bullied and coerced union members to vote yes. He repeatedly threatened layoffs and increased the number of projected layoffs from 4,500 to 7,500 in an attempt to scare union members into voting yes, she said.
“This was extremely coercive,” she wrote. “He and the union leaders had already made it clear many times that if the agreement was rejected, there would be layoffs. The governor’s repeated threats were not intended to furnish information; they were intended to coerce people into voting ‘yes.’”
Before union members began voting on the deal, Malloy said he would hold off on issuing layoff notices as an act of good faith. But Herskowitz claimed that that decision was likely made so people who were safe from the layoffs wouldn’t know it.
Malloy was coercive also when he showed up at a training session for state’s attorneys and talked about his days as a prosecutor, just minutes before the group was scheduled to vote on the agreement at Kane’s office only four miles down the road, she wrote.
“Many members were extremely upset by this unfair, coercive move on the part of the management and the governor. The agreement only passed my union by seven votes. This unfair labor practice may well have affected the result,” she wrote.
On Wednesday Herskowitz amended her complaint to include what she said were additional wrongdoings that occurred since she first filed it.
To add to the pressure on state workers, the Senate passed a Malloy-backed bill that changes worker pension calculations and their collective bargaining rights, she wrote.
Though the bill was never raised in the House, that move flies in the face of a 1986 decision by the Labor Relations Board which stated that “threats and attempts ... to seek legislative changes in conditions of employment that are mandatory subjects of bargaining are not favored,” she wrote.
The board found the state had engaged in no wrongdoing in the 1986 case, but Herskowitz said that things are different this year because Malloy is refusing to negotiate in good faith with the unions. He would not even sit back down at the table unless the unions changed their bylaws to make passing an agreement easier and then refused to consider anything but a clarified version of the old agreement, she said.
“Talk about pressure and coercion!” she wrote.
Union leaders did vote to change the ratification bylaws on July 18, so that a simple majority can now pass an agreement rather than the old requirement that 14 of the 15 unions and 80 percent of voting members approve.
Herskowitz said that decision has had a negative impact on her small union, the Connecticut Association of Prosecutors, a group that is also a respondent in the complaint.
“My union no longer has a meaningful voice in a sea of 45,000 plus state employee union members,” she wrote.
She said the president of the union, John Doyle, never asked for any input from the rank and file before voting to change the bylaws, a decision she said rendered the union “powerless and helpless.” She said she tried to bring the concerns to the union’s vice president but never got a response.
She also took exception to SEBAC’s decision to suspend a requirement that it notify the rank and file 30 days before a vote to change its bylaws is taken.
“Waiving it violated the duty of fair representation. I believe the members should have been allowed to vote on the bylaws change. At the very least, they should have been given adequate notice and an opportunity to protest it,” she wrote.
In casting an affirmative vote on the original agreement, her union also violated its own bylaws, which require a two-thirds majority vote on any membership action, she said. Her union’s vote was 114 “yes” to 107 “no,” nowhere near two-thirds, she said.
Herskowitz concluded her amended complaint by condemning SEBAC, CAP and all union leaders, saying that their abuses have been so flagrant that they should all be decertified. She appealed to the Labor Relations Board to act quickly, as those abuses will continue until the governor and SEBAC get what they want.
“They keep trying to shove this agreement down our throats. They act like the members did something wrong in rejecting it and they have to save us from ourselves. They have made us look bad to the public by touting something that we rejected as a ‘great deal.’ The leaders are not representing us at all, just themselves and they are bringing their scorn and wrath down upon us,” she wrote.
The board has scheduled a closed conference on the complaint for Aug. 3, according to Nancy Steffens, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor. But based on an interview Herskowitz did with WTIC on Thursday it sounds like state employees supportive of her complaint will hold a rally outside the Board of Labor Relations in Wethersfield to show their solidarity for it.
That conference could result in a settlement, a dismissal of the complaint, or a determination that the issue has merit. If the complaint is deemed to have merit it will be assigned a case number and eventually heard before a three-person board, Steffens said.