HARTFORD, CONN. - State workers are now voting for the second time on a tentative agreement reached by their unions and Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) to "save jobs, protect benefits and preserve services." The agreement was reached as an alternative to massive layoffs of as many as 7,500 that would devastate many social services.
The agreement provides job security for four years, preserves the health plan for current workers and retirees, and provides for 3 percent annual pay raises after a two year pay freeze. However, if the agreement is rejected, in addition to the layoffs, the right to negotiate health care would be lost, pensions would be further weakened and wage increases would be uncertain.
Veronica Cook, a program specialist at the University of Connecticut tells her co-workers, "Vote YES because job security, health care, and our pensions are significant gains in collective bargaining that need to be safeguarded for all state workers."
Unfortunately, proposals to increase taxes on the super rich and close corporate loopholes, that could have balanced the state budget without any cuts or layoffs, were not adopted during the legislative session. State workers were left in the breach.
Tea party Republicans and the media have jumped into the situation with a union-bashing spree, urging state workers to vote "no" on the concessionary agreement.
Stewards in the 15 unions representing state workers are on the front lines, explaining that a "no" vote would divide workers, weaken their bargaining strength in the future and harm the people they serve.
SEBAC, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition changed its bylaws after the first vote in June, to allow ratification by a simple majority of its unions and their members. At the time of the first vote the by-laws stipulated that if more than one union or less than 80 percent of members voted no, an agreement could not be ratified. In the first vote, a majority of 11 unions and 57 percent of members voted yes.
Right-wing media are continuing to push workers to vote no. Former Governor John Rowland (R), who served prison time for corruption, uses his capitol area radio talk show to promote the falsehood that state workers would lose their current health plan and instead be covered by SustiNet, a proposal for a public option that has not yet been established. This relentless push created uncertainty, fear and distrust, in a blatant effort to divide and weaken the unions.
When the ratification vote failed in June, a special session of the State Legislature approved layoffs of 7,500 workers and extreme cuts in services to balance the budget. However, the cuts and layoffs will not take place if state workers vote to ratify. A united effort by union leaders produced the by-laws change followed by a week of discussions with the Governor to clarify language.
"The agreement is the path forward to restoring early intervention services for infants and toddlers, keeping courthouses open, maintaining respite homes for families in need, and avoiding closure of motor vehicle offices," says a unanimously adopted SEBAC statement.
As the unions began meeting with their members to prepare for the second vote, thousands of layoff notices were sent out, creating even more confusion. Supervisors were then instructed to make it clear that the layoffs will not stand if the agreement is ratified.
Entire courthouses, motor vehicle facilities, and other agencies had been given notice of possible shut down Vocational-Technical high schools are threatened with elimination of sports, art, libraries, computer and adult education. Protest rallies by students, parents and teachers created so much pressure that the Governor restored the fall sports program last week.
At Manchester and Tunxis Community Colleges, workers at the Child Care and Preschool Centers received layoff notices last Thursday. Parents, teachers and staff rallied the next day in a beautiful show of solidarity.
"Vote YES to maintain services and jobs ... and in general to help stabilize our economic recovery. After all, most working and middle class families are still struggling - and that's who we serve," writes childcare worker Beverly Dickinson, on the SEBAC Face Book page, In This Together.
These state workers taking on bogus arguments and convincing their co-workers to vote yes exemplify true solidarity. The position they have been placed in should never be repeated. It is still due time to recoup the Bush tax cuts extended to millionaires and billionaires and put Connecticut back to work.
Photo: Rally at State Capitol in Hartford, Conn., in solidarity with state workers in Wisconsin and Connecticut. Henry Lowendorf/PW