State union members divided prior to vote on concessions
Published 11:15 am, Sunday, May 29, 2011
"The whole thing stinks. It's terrible," Mauro said. "The more word gets out what this is really about, the more people don't like it."
That is the attitude union leaders will this weekend begin in earnest trying to change as they formally kick off the ratification process.
Although the $1.6 billion deal with Malloy, needed to plug a $2 billion hole in his budget, was announced May 13 and a summary released the following week, negotiators did not finalize an agreement detailing the finer points until Friday afternoon.
That document will now be issued to the 15 unions that compose the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition; their respective leaders will start scheduling meetings to brief members on the details. Voting is to begin no sooner than the third week of June, which cuts things close for Malloy, who needs a balanced budget in place by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
Before now, SEBAC's 45,000 members have mainly been relying on summaries, media reports, rumors and colleagues' opinions. Asked Friday at the Capitol if he was concerned the naysayers were gaining traction, Malloy, a Democrat, said, "That's an issue for labor to handle with their membership."
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who has derided the agreement as a plum for organized labor, said if not ratified by late June, "Then we've got a lot of trouble between that third week in June and July 1."
One email being circulated alleges union negotiators are part of a plot to use concessions to help launch a state-run insurance plan in Connecticut.
More InformationTo see videos SEBAC has prepared to woo members on the concessions deal, go to http://inthistogetherct.org/2011/05/ta-agreement-videos/
"It's `Obama-care,' " Mauro said. "They're trying to backdoor it in through the states and doing it on the backs of government workers."
O'Connor quickly dismissed it as totally inaccurate. He suspects "outside parties" with an interest in stirring up trouble over health reform and other progressive policies are taking advantage of state workers' anxieties over the concessions.
Larry Dorman, a SEBAC spokesman, said, "We're doing as much as we can as fast as we can. That includes posting a set of videos (explaining the deal with Malloy) on the SEBAC website, putting together question and answer summaries, posting on individual websites like Facebook and other social media tools. ... We're all taking calls, answering emails and doing everything we can to provide as much info as possible."
Dawn Robinson, a mental health case manager in Bridgeport, plans to vote for the concessions package, in part because she believes it continues to offer good health benefits and Malloy is treating labor better than other governors. But she recalled being encouraged by another state employee to oppose the deal while pumping gas at a state Department of Transportation fuel site.
"(They) yelled out, `Vote no,' " Robinson said. "I'm concerned that it's misinformation being spread too rapidly because they're not listening, they're not waiting to hear what the information is."
House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said the best salesmen are the minority Republicans.
"They're saying this is a giveaway to the unions. I hope they continue to say that," Sharkey said. "That hopefully will get through to members and (they will) recognize this is about as good a deal as they possibly get. It only goes downhill from here."
The SEBAC deal must be ratified by 80 percent of the 15 unions, with no more than two rejecting it. But Dorman noted, "It's weighted by numbers in each union ... You could have two smaller units vote it down, and then you've got trouble."
Staff Writer Brian Lockhart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.