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With Labor Tensions High, Mass Union Seeks to Recruit Prison Workers

by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 21, 2011 5:00am
(12) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Legal

A Massachusetts-based union representing correction workers said it’s recruiting Connecticut prison workers and getting results in the midst of confusion, anxiety and anger over continued labor talks with the governor’s administration.

Correctional officers and prison employees, who number over 4,500, are currently represented by AFSCME Council 4. They overwhelmingly rejected the $1.6 billion tentative concession package between the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration.

But with more than 4,000 layoffs looming, including 863 Correction employees, union leaders voted Monday to change their bylaws to make future agreements easier to pass. And as renewed talks aimed at reaching a similar agreement continue, some prison workers seem interested in the advances of the Springfield-based National Correctional Employees Union.

NCEU represents prison workers in Massachusetts and recently added county worker unions from Maine. Now the union has set its sights on converting Connecticut state workers.

AFSCME Local 319 President Jon T. Pepe called NCEU a business, not a union, which is trying to capitalize on recent discontent from correctional officers.

“Where were they last year?” Pepe asked. “Is that how they want people to make their decisions? When people are confused and anxious?”

If the union wants correctional officers to decertify AFSMCE and join them, they will have to jump through a number of hoops. Like most labor matters, the process of changing representation is a complicated one. Members must first submit signed cards of interest representing at least 30 percent of their membership to the state Board of Labor Relations along with a petition, according to the Department of Labor.

NCEU Executive Director Christopher Murphy said they hadn’t yet counted those “blue cards” but he said he was receiving inquiries from all over the state and is very confident they will get the requisite number, about 1,500.

He’s been getting help from some help from at least one Connecticut CO. Correctional officer John Boyle, who is retiring in August, said he’s been going around and passing out the cards over the last couple of days.

“They’re going like hot cakes,” he said.

As a soon-to-be retiree, Boyle said he doesn’t have “a horse in the race.” But he is deeply unhappy with both AFSCME and the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition; groups he said seem to exist only to collect dues from workers.

“They’re taking people’s money going behind closed doors and selling them out,” he said.

Should NCEU get enough signed cards, the labor board will take them and determine whether the names are valid. It then investigates the petition, meeting with the current union, the prospective union and the employer, in this case the state. With that information the board makes a decision whether or not to hold an election.

But there are other restrictions, including a requirement for state unions that the petition be submitted during the month of August on the year before the expiration of the workers’ current contract.

Representatives of SEBAC and AFSCME point out that for state correctional officers, that window was last August. Larry Dorman, spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, said they are not worried about NCEU or the cards circulating amongst prison staffers.

“We believe that window is firmly closed. We’re going to continue to focus on protecting our members’ jobs and safety,” he said.

But Murphy said prospective unions are also allowed to go after a unit when it is operating without a contract. Correctional officer contracts expired on June 30.

He said Wednesday that AFSCME has been doing a lousy job of protecting and its members’ interests.

“The message they’re giving us is their feeling sold out and not being represented,” he said.

That has led them to reach out to his group for the second time since 2008, when NCEU also tried to recruit Connecticut prison workers by circulating the same blue cards, Murphy said. At that time AFSCME accused NCEU of illegally obtaining the home addresses of correctional officers to send the cards directly to their residences.

They submitted the signed cards they obtained to the labor board, which later notified them that they were about 300 cards short of the requisite 30 percent, he said.  By that time it was too late.

“AFSCME reached a deal and we were locked out,” he said.

This time Murphy doesn’t anticipate that being a problem. He said that SEBAC has overreached its authority by negotiating agreements beyond its purview of healthcare and pension provisions. He said also that the coalition had union leaders violating their own bylaws in the process of amending them and suggested NCEU would fight them with every legal avenue available.

Dorman defended his group and its work on behalf of correctional officers, who he said “walk the toughest beat in Connecticut.”

“We have an excellent record of protecting our people both at the bargaining table and beyond it,” Dorman said. “We stand by that record.”

Council 4 won an arbitration award in 2009, which gave its members much-deserved raises, he said. They have also successfully fended off privatization efforts from two previous administrations, he said.

Dorman said that attacks directed at SEBAC were misleading since state law requires the group to exist.

“SEBAC is a statutory creation. The law calls for it to exist. To lead people to believe otherwise is pure deception,” he said.

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(12) Comments

posted by: do8833 | July 21, 2011  7:08am

I am so tired of all this union talk!  I work for DOC as a counselor and guess what I have a meeting today to tell me I have been bumped from my job…by someone from Bergin…Feels GREAT, and having 2 kids it truly sucks! Now I read articles that Bergin and Enfield will close no matter what and those people will be unemployed, what is the damn truth???  I thought we were fighting for no layoffs?

posted by: sharewhut | July 21, 2011  2:57pm

“AFSCME Local 319 President Jon T. Pepe called NCEU a business, not a union, which is trying to capitalize on recent discontent from correctional officers.
“Where were they last year?” Pepe asked. “Is that how they want people to make their decisions? When people are confused and anxious?””
Confused and anxious? Sounds nothing like the garbage AFSCME & Co. pulled for round one of voting, huh?
“Dorman said that attacks directed at SEBAC were misleading since state law requires the group to exist.
“SEBAC is a statutory creation. The law calls for it to exist. To lead people to believe otherwise is pure deception,” he said. “
Sure the new unions would have to join SEBAC. but a 5 union Hazard Duty based voting block of replacement unions for current NP-1,4,5,8, and the new SP supervisor union would present a pretty formidable team. And knock AFSCME down to merely super power status instead of Supreme being by pulling the ‘unwanted’ third of their membership.
Send the blue cards fast, see if the ‘negotiations’ change any if AFSCME has the sword over THEIR heads for once.
Oh, and AFSCME isn’t a business, with an out of state home office?
AFSCME units are always complaining that Corrections doesn’t fit their template any time they go against the flow and drag down the genteel masses. Too divergent a group what with the HD retirement rough and tumble element and all. So why not let ‘em go? Oh yeah, the dues make up for some of the hurt. And after all, AFSCME is a business, all about the dues.

posted by: sharewhut | July 21, 2011  3:04pm

Bergin and Enfield have been on the block for years waiting for the opportune time. They were presented that opportunity to not just close them, but find a way to claim it was self inflicted by the workers. Too much of a gift to pass up. Hang in there, there are bound to be openings staffing Gat.. I mean the Niantic annex pretty soon.

posted by: sharewhut | July 21, 2011  3:13pm

Roy Occhiogrosso:
“The prison closings are going forward,’’ Malloy’s senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, told reporters Wednesday. “They were always going to go forward. That pace has been accelerated, in part, because the agreement was voted down. But that was always going to happen.’‘

Later, Occhiogrosso added, “If there is an agreement, another prison will still close in addition to Bergin. In all likelihood, it will be Enfield. It might not happen by October 1, but soon after.’’

posted by: sharewhut | July 21, 2011  3:21pm

Read the ‘deal’, it was no layoffs to be based on purely economic reasons (just to cut payroll).
Layoffs due to agency consolidations and program eliminations remained in play.
Consolidate the inmates and staff of Bergin with other facilities, eliminating the Bergin programming and presto-magico! ‘acceptable’ layoffs!

posted by: meghan50 | July 21, 2011  8:13pm

Hey do8833,
I too am a counselor in your region and know what you are saying is very true. I also recall that none of us were supposed to be laid off without a job as union members. As Governors office staff negotiators/spokesmen are saying now: prisons will still close and people will still remain laid off (some) how many….NO MATTER WHAT,,,and they are using excuse: because budget already went through…as BS excuse!!!
I say we VOTE NO,NO,NO (again) on # 2 vote for this seCRAP stuff and sign the blue cards for Mass Union who represents CORRECTIONAL STAFF and DO NOT work for and IN BED WITH their employer!!!
DO NOT BE AFRAID - thats JUST what the GOV and SEBAC - especially AFSME wants all of us to be - Let us face our fears headon and represent the INTELLIGENT INDIVIDUALS we ALL are…...VOTE NO…..and see the miracle of new found state surplus….AGAIN!!!!

posted by: RuSh10Me | July 21, 2011  8:41pm

“Where were they last year?” Pepe asked. “Is that how they want people to make their decisions? When people are confused and anxious?”
Just what, exactly does SEBAC think happened when state employees were asked to vote on the most recent agreement? Does he not think his membership was “confused and anxious”?
What a putz.

posted by: Corrupticut | July 21, 2011  9:34pm

Jon Pepe is about to lose his future job at council 4 if the Mass. union gets the blue card votes needed. Bye Bye Sal Luciano.

posted by: BeforeUVoteYes | July 22, 2011  7:45am

” Concessions are one thing. What’s not acceptable is deceipt. Every Vote counts for starters and let’s see it in writing that offices won’t close before we change our votes to yes. All the Sebac Reps had their own agenda. Even the union leaders where it passed have criticized no voters. How nasty.

posted by: sharewhut | July 22, 2011  8:48am

From OLR “Collective Bargaining for State Employees”:
Article II
Certifications and Elections of Representatives
Sec. 5-273-10.
Notification of an interested organization
(subsection ‘(a)’ is all the ‘who’ info, won’t include here){***emphasis is mine)
“(b) A notification will be considered timely if it is filed between August 1 and August 31 inclusive of the year prior to the expiration of the collective bargaining contract covering the employees who are the subject of the petition. After the agent has determined the existence of the requisite showing of interest by the employee organization filing the notification and any party filing a challenge, the board may order an election or a hearing to show cause why an election should not be held. The show cause hearing, if ordered, shall be held by September 15, and the board shall use its best efforts to schedule elections prior to October 1.
***The board may consider petitions filed at other times if compelling reasons are shown for deviation from the above rule.***”
The August ‘10 window obviously missed. Is it compelling that:
A) Contract HAS expired. AFSCME was given that Sept to June window to establish a new one and did not. Regs, that I can see, don’t have provision for expired contracts.
B) Is there a percentage of members that would make it compelling? The 30% for an ‘on time’ filing may not be enough to sway the board, but would 50% or 60% be ‘compelling’ enough?
C)In an issue other than the timeliness, Did AFSCME, by voting to accept a vote on changing by laws (regardless of the vote they cast regarding the actual changes) breach their representative duty to Hazard Duty members by subjecting their ‘unique’ pension format to simple majority rule? “50%+1” could now potentially scrap the HD plan in exchange for God knows what in return for their units. Delusional to think it won’t come up in future negotiations.
Link below to entire OLR/State Employee Rep.Page.

posted by: sharewhut | July 22, 2011  8:54am

If I figure it right (good chance I don’t as I’m not a labor lawyer), NCEU possibly has until AFSCME submits a new contract or extension agreement to membership for approval to file.

posted by: sharewhut | July 22, 2011  1:19pm

As a caution & a reminder… Any new union(s) would have to be part of SEBAC group. Won’t be able to negotiate pensions and medical separately.Pulling out of AFSCME won’t be pretty. Their take is:
“We have an excellent record of protecting our people both at the bargaining table and beyond it,” Dorman said. “We stand by that record.”.
My take is: they threw all of that out the window with the ‘50%+1’ on changes. They can, theoretically, eliminate HD from any new Tiers and possibly any existing ones, by having a vote to change pension plans and sweeten retirement for nonHD. Preventing that was one purpose of the super-majority requirement in the first place. And you’d better believe a scorned Sal would go right there.
Which is why any move would have to include more than just NP-4. Bring along separate unions of hazardous duty Judicial, UConn Health, DMAS/CVH/JTS, Public Safety/State Police. Build up number of unions to have a shot in the new majority based union vote.