Awaiting next concession vote, many state workers left in limbo
State employees: Many await next concession vote in hopes of avoiding layoffs
Published 11:20 am, Tuesday, July 26, 2011
STAMFORD -- Marcia Barry, a paralegal specialist for the state Workers Compensation Commission in Stamford, drove to Hartford on Monday to sign legal paperwork required when public employees are laid off.
"My thoughts are everywhere at this point," Barry said after her meeting with human resources and union officials.
She and some 1,700 colleagues reside in a state of limbo, occupying the space between the unemployment line and continued efforts by labor leaders to salvage a $1.6 billion concessions deal needed to preserve their jobs.
Barry earlier predicted she would be targeted in the first round of what Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said could be as many as 6,500 layoffs needed to balance his budget.
With just three years on the job, she was a prime target to be "bumped" by senior employees exercising their rights to replace colleagues in lesser positions rather than be cut from the state payroll. On Thursday, Barry got the phone call from human resources confirming her fears.
But then on Friday, leaders of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition and Malloy announced a deal setting the stage for another vote to ratify. The bulk of the $1.6 billion concessions package remains intact, but the sides clarified language to allay fears about health care changes blamed for the initial rejection in June.
"I was elated. I thought `Oh my God ... Maybe there is a second chance,' " Barry said.
Union leaders also recently revised their bylaws, lowering the bar for ratification from a super majority to a basic majority, reflecting frustration the givebacks were rejected despite 57 percent support.
But Malloy will not put the brakes on the layoff process until another SEBAC vote is concluded.
"I feel like I should start to look for alternate employment because I don't know what's going to happen with this new vote," Barry said. "I adore my job (and) would not want to leave for any other reason."
Sylvia Matthews, of Bridgeport, is in a somewhat similar position. A 26-year veteran of state service, Matthews thought her job as supervisor at the White Plains Family Respite Center in Trumbull was safe. Then the decision was made to shutter all nine of the Department of Developmental Services respite centers to eliminate 83 positions.
Now, despite being optimistic about a second concessions vote, Matthews is scrambling to bump less-senior employees at other DDS facilities just in case the givebacks are again shot down. She is hoping to secure a position in Norwalk, but may have to settle for a much longer commute to Cheshire, Torrington or Mansfield.
"It's a shock. That goes to show nobody's secure," Matthews said. "It will be a step down. I won't be supervising. I'll have someone over me with less years than I do."
Charles Vossbrinck is among eight employees who face layoffs at the New Haven-based Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Vossbrinck said the SEBAC bylaw changes have given him hope, but he remains uneasy.
"During the day you have ups and downs. You think, `Yeah, they'll vote and everything (layoff notices) will be rescinded. Other times, you wonder what's going on," Vossbrinck said. "You get thoughtful. You think about your family."
"It would be nice to get out of limbo," Vossbrinck said.
"There was a good deal of anxiety before the (layoff) notices were received and more after they were in hand," Gonyea said. "Some coworkers really feel like they are being punished for problems they had no part in creating. For my part, losing a number of bright, hard-working people is going to make it more difficult to do the job I'm being paid to do."
One state manager who declined to be identified said, "I can tell you a lot of work has come to a screeching halt because of this. It's just waiting ... Just the idea of your manager appearing at your door is just terrifying for a lot of people."
Barry implored her colleagues to take the opportunity to pass the concessions package and save jobs.
"We should all really consider this as a brotherhood -- we're protecting each other," she said.
Barry and Vossbrinck said they voted in favor of the concession package in June.
Staff writer Brian Lockhart can be reached at email@example.com