'Bumping' to extend layoffs of state workers
If she is among the 6,600 state employees Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says must be cut to balance the budget, Grasty Peele has the option of displacing or "bumping" someone with less time on the job, sending them to the unemployment line instead.
"It's kind of `survival of the fittest' right now economically," she said. "Yeah, I'd have to do it. I have a young child I have to take care of. (But) I hope it would never be put in my hands to have to make that choice."
And whoever Grasty Peele replaced might have a similar opportunity to secure another government position, perpetuating the amount of time it takes just to get one body off the Connecticut government payroll.
The Malloy administration moved quickly to slash jobs after the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition failed to ratify a $1.6 billion concessions package, but bumping rights and other requirements will extend the process for months.
Linda Yelmini, director of the state Office of Labor Relations, estimated the process may not end until Christmas. "There will be waves, is my best guess," she said. The governor acknowledged as much in a brief interview last week, saying, "It's a very complicated system. We're not General Electric or GM (General Motors). You don't just draw a line and drop everybody."
Around 45,000 state employes belong to SEBAC, but the layoffs could also affect 6,300 non-union workers. Over the coming days Malloy and his staff will be working with various agencies to finalize those cuts.
Mark Ojakian, a budget undersecretary and Malloy's lead concessions negotiator, said department heads were instructed to take into consideration unemployment compensation and accrued vacation and sick time when adding up the savings.
"Say I make $55,000 and I'm laid off," Ojakian said. "I may have a month of accumulated vacation time you have to pay me and a month of sick time for which you have to pay me a quarter. Once you have all those payouts figured out, that's when you really get to the net savings number."
Yelmini said layoff letters will be hand-delivered and meetings scheduled with the targeted employees, at which time the bumping discussions begin.
In a majority of cases employees can only displace colleagues within the same agency. Administrators, accountants, lawyers and information technology professionals can bump statewide.
Non-unionized staffers do not have bumping rights.
Marcia Barry, a paralegal specialist with Grasty Peele in Stamford for three years, is afraid of being displaced.
"I understand seniority (but) I don't necessarily agree with any individual being bumped based on time put in," Barry said. "It would be a little more fair if other aspects were taken into consideration, such as performance and attendance."
Yelmini said in other cases senior employees may choose to retire early to preserve a younger colleague's job.
"As an employer, we can't care about who goes," she said. "Obviously, we'd prefer for people to go who wanted to go."
There are legal remedies SEBAC and/or its 15 individual unions and 34 bargaining units can attempt to pursue that could further slow the job cuts. After then-Gov. John G. Rowland ordered 2,800 layoffs in 2002, unions filed hundreds of grievances alleging contract violations. And the sides are still in court over a SEBAC lawsuit alleging Rowland violated their First Amendment rights by targeting union members for layoffs.
A federal judge last week ruled against SEBAC, but an appeal is expected.
SEBAC continues to try to salvage the concessions agreement and avoid layoffs. But if that fails, Grasty Peele and Barry said, they expect labor leaders to go to battle with Malloy to save jobs.
"This is what we pay (dues) for," Barry said.
SEBAC spokesman Larry Dorman would not get into specifics but said, "We fight for our members now to keep them employed and will fight for them if we can't figure a way to avoid the layoffs. We have an obligation to do that."
Staff Writer Brian Lockhart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org