Welcome to the new Connecticut, a land of haves, and have nots. The new class struggle is evident now even among the ranks of state employees. Older workers want the unions to reject any concessions or give backs called for by the governor -- folks have worked a lifetime to earn pensions and benefits. These workers view concessions as a violation of a contract the state made with them decades ago.
Younger workers, with young families, and long years of employment ahead of them, are less wedded to the status quo. If the old-timers have to kick in more for health care or get their pensions chopped, it’s no big deal.
“The state’s unions are losing their focus,” I was told by a judge the other day. We were in chambers talking about the dismal state of the courts, and how the administration of justice, already moving at a snail’s pace, would most likely suffer as a result of layoffs, court closings and destroyed morale. “The union creed used be one for all, and all for one,” the judge said. “Now it is every man for himself.”
My phone has been ringing with calls from disgruntled union workers seeking to sue union leaders. Older workers feel betrayed. The Byzantine rules regarding how to tabulate the vote for approval or rejection of Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s concession proposal resulted in a rejection of the governor’s plan, despite the fact that a majority of union members appeared to favor the concessions. The result was as untidy as the Electoral College. Layoff notices now cut a wide swatch through the state, a social influenza seemingly killing young workers, but sparing those longer in the teeth.
So union leaders are doing the unthinkable: they want to change the rules, midstream, to get back to the table to negotiate a deal that has already been rejected. While workers about to lose jobs may feel relieved, workers who stand to lose benefits they worked a lifetime to earn feel betrayed. Nothing will break a union quite so quickly or effectively as turning members against one another. Governor Malloy, a Democrat, might just hold the stave that bleeds the heart of public employee unions to death.
We lawyers make a great fuss about the rule of law, but most of what we say misses the mark by a country mile. The law is simply a set of tools used to resolve conflict. Often, the rules have less to do with justice than they do with simply providing predicable ways of deciding cases. The law is only effective if it is supported by a widespread belief in the legitimacy of the social and economic regime those rules support. Lose the sense of legitimacy, and the rule of law is simply passing flatus, a noisy wind signifying nothing.
The union leadership’s decision to change the rules because it does not like the outcome is just the sort of thing that undermines a sense of legitimacy. I’ve spoken to many union members now who feel betrayed by their leaders.
There is news of coming prison closings. Good. We need to learn to provide opportunity to all Americans and close penal plantations. Public defenders are unable to provide the defense to clients that law requires. Then set the defendants free. We prosecute gratuitously and too often without real cause. Chaos is good for the soul; it provokes reflection on what is and is not important.
Amid all the high drama of the union implosion came quiet news of a small act of vandalism in the Manchester court. When prosecutor Adam Scott returned to his office one Monday morning, he discovered a rock thrown through the window of his office. Some odds and ends had been stolen from a window sill. Police are investigating. Was it a random act of violence? The act of a disgruntled defendant in a case Scott was prosecuting? Or had tempers boiled over in the struggled between haves and have nots in state government?
I like to imagine it was an act of political significance. Some part of me hopes that brick is but a sign of chaos to come. It is long overdue. Didn’t Jefferson counsel revolution now and again?