They Said ‘Yes’
Union members said Tuesday they feel the tide has changed and are confident that when the votes are tallied Wednesday night, their fellow state workers will have approved a clarified agreement.
Speaking with reporters at the CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 Union Hall in Hartford, members offered different reasons why they felt the sentiment that killed the first $1.6 billion agreement has shifted.
Click here to read about why the first vote was defeated.
The requirements for ratification are lower this time around after union leaders voted in July to change the number of unions that it needs to ratify the agreement from 14 to 8 and reduces the threshold of voting members from 80 to 50 percent.
Many attributed it to the more than 3,000 layoff notices and program cuts Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called for in the wake of the vote to reject the original package.
SEIU 1199 member Charlene Bell, a Department of Developmental Services employee at Southbury Training School, said older employees who haven’t been at the department that long were unhappy with an additional three years tacked on to the retirement age.
But a strong education effort by union leaders and some layoffs put things in perspective for members, she said.
“They realized that any paycheck is better than no paycheck,” she said.
While the layoffs may have contributed to the change of heart on the agreement she’s expecting, they have taken an emotional toll on members, Bell said. Even though many expect the agreement to pass Wednesday, laid off workers are feeling down, she said.
“Now it’s a matter of getting the morale of members who received slips back up. It’s a tough thing,” she said.
Many state workers have said they felt bullied by Malloy as the number of layoffs grows each week. Tom Long, an English professor at the University of Connecticut, was not among them. When asked, he laughed at the question.
Long said another state employee told him that he felt Malloy was shoving the agreement down the throats of union members.
“I told him, ‘My friend, if you want to see shoving down the throat go visit Wisconsin,’” he said.
Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker led a widely publicized and successful effort to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of some state employees, while limiting the rights for many of the others.
By contrast Malloy avoided hostility and has been largely respectful of Connecticut’s workers, Long said. He cited a growing awareness of the differential between Connecticut’s situation and that of labor unions in Wisconsin and across the country as a reason more folks are likely to vote to approve the package.
“I think they are more alert to the larger dimensions of the issue. The eyes of the nation are on us and we have a chance to show America that there is an alternate way for public workers to be partners with governors,” he said.
Long said he’s seen the alternative first-hand. A recent addition to Connecticut’s payroll, he spent 20 years working in Virginia as at a community college. Virginia is a right-to-work state where employees cannot be required to join a union and there are no public employee unions.
Not having a voice was demoralizing, Long said.
“In Virginia they treated us like beggars and field hands,” he said.
Year after year he said he saw huge increases in healthcare co-pays and monthly premiums. He said he understands the concerns of workers regarding changes in the agreement that require them to contribute 3 percent to their healthcare plans over 10 years. But to Long it was a compromise that reflected the current healthcare situation in the United States.
Judicial marshal supervisor and president of their unit within CSEA SEIU Local 2001 Mark O’Brien said that he’s encouraging his members to vote yes even though one could argue that his unit would benefit by not adopting the agreement. His is the only union in the state that has another year of its contract. He said it’s not about individual benefits; it’s about saving the jobs of fellow state employees in rough economic times.
“It’s a very simple, straightforward motivation of benevolence, of caring about your fellow state employee, of trying to get this state back to where it needs to be and the labor movement of this country,” he said.
O’Brien said state workers were fortunate the governor was willing to negotiate with unions and give them a second opportunity to ratify an agreement.
State workers are expected to finish the voting process by Wednesday night and the 15 members of the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition will cast their votes on Thursday morning, SEBAC spokesman Matt O’Connor said.