At the end of the day, state workers couldn't stomach the layoffs
Unions OK concessions: State workers sacrifice for jobs
Published 1:55 pm, Sunday, August 21, 2011
Ambrogio was among the thousands of potentially laid-off state workers celebrating Thursday’s news that Connecticut’s state public employee unions had passed a $1.6 billion concessions deal intended to preserve as many as 6,500 jobs as well as eat into the state’s budget deficit.
“I was pretty excited,” Ambrogio said of the vote, a do-over of June’s failed ratification attempt by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. “I don’t have distractions and can focus on my work now.”
The vote ended a tense summer that saw labor leaders desperate to salvage the givebacks and mend their relationship with a disappointed Democratic governor intent on slashing jobs and services if necessary to balance his first budget.
When a super-majority of SEBAC members failed to back the concessions in June, labor leaders, despite some rank-and-file criticism, amended their bylaws to lower that threshold. Those changes, as well as efforts with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to clarify portions of the deal that had led to its defeat, paved the way for this month’s re-vote.
In the meantime, the administration began issuing layoff slips and agencies planned for losses in personnel and revenue.
“It’s just an up-and-down roller coaster,” said Ambrogio, who added it was a crash course in how unions operate.
Clopha Deshotel, employed in the tutoring and testing office at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, received his pink slip but had enough seniority to “bump” junior workers out of positions in the admissions office or elsewhere. He had been hoping it would not come to that.
“It’s a struggle,” Deshotel said. “What do I do? Go to admissions, meet the person (and ask), ’Do you like the job?’ ”
Union steward Isabel King, a social services eligibility supervisor in Danbury, said it has been a long, trying summer.
“It’s been very difficult figuring out the right thing to do knowing the agreement was not the totally best thing for everyone,” she said.
Claiming members had been misled by outside influences, including conservative groups hoping for massive layoffs, union leaders worked overtime re-explaining the givebacks. They also recruited those facing job losses to lobby colleagues. The Malloy administration also made the unique decision to allow employees time off to attend SEBAC education sessions.
Maria Vereb voted “no” in June but changed her mind after a meeting last week with her union president, Sal Luciano.
“It was just very straightforward information of why they had to work with what the governor was allowing them to do,” said Vereb, a social services’ worker in Bridgeport. “So I changed my vote in the interest of all.”
Not everyone voted in favor of the deal. A state Department of Labor employee in Bridgeport said she opposed the concessions because of the pressure.
“I felt very much bullied, coerced, sold out by my union,” she said.
Gene Mauro, a Danbury-based probation officer, has been a vocal critic of SEBAC and the givebacks.
“The unions ’busted’ their own unions,” Mauro said Thursday. “I just don’t think it’s a good day.”
Staff Writer Brian Lockhart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.