“Oh, Dannel Boy, your lips they move so sweetly;
They sing soft lies,
The sort that kill.
Oh, Dannel Boy, your lips seduced our SEBAC;
And now our blood,
It boils o’er today.”
Thus the chorus will be heard throughout the state from disgruntled members of state unions. When Governor Dannel Malloy submitted his proposal for union give backs to the state’s unions last month, the plan was rejected. So the governor went ahead with plans to begin laying folks off and closing nonessential state services to narrow the state’s budget gap. The state did what we’ve been doing on the private side -- it tightened its belt.
Then the unthinkable occurred. The state’s unions decided to change the rules on how votes were cast, thus giving the governor another bite at the apple. Union members statewide are crying foul. Betrayal is the mood of the day. Older union members, those who have spent a professional career earning pensions and benefits, feel as though the rug has been pulled from beneath their feet. Passions are hot. I’ve heard from union members whose voices quake out of a sense of combined rage and sorrow. They ask: What became of fairness? Of due process?
When the governor first sought concessions from the union to close the state budget gap, union members rejected the plan under a complex formula that called for 14 of the 15 state unions, representing 80 percent of union members, to approve the proposal. Malloy didn’t come close to getting the vote, although a majority of union members did vote to approve the plan: 11 of 15 unions and 57 percent of those voting wanted to agree to the governor’s call for concessions.
The coalition representing the state’s unions at the bargaining table, State Employees Bargaining Unit Coalition, SEBAC, has now agreed to a change of the bylaws governing approval of any proposed concessions. It dispensed with the supermajority requirement. All that is needed now is a simple majority of eight unions to ratify any proposed givebacks. If the prior vote holds, Malloy’s concessions should be approved.
But many union members feel betrayed by SEBAC, a leadership that looks more gubernatorial patsy than labor brawler. The leadership presented the issue to rank and file union members once before. If was decisively rejected under the rules now in place. Changing the rules without the consent of rank and file membership is sort of like calling for a fourth out during the ninth inning.
A new vote will be held in the next couple of weeks. Now that layoff notices have been sent, 1,800 so far with thousands more promised in the weeks to come, union members know the governor isn’t bluffing. One way or the other, Malloy has to close a $1.6 billion budget gap over the next two years. He will either do so by eliminating some state workers, or giving all state workers less. The next vote will most likely fall along demographic lines: those who have vested in the status quo will vote against concessions; those fearing layoff notices will vote to keep their jobs.
My phone has been ringing a lot lately: older workers are calling to complain their due process rights have been violated. I am not so sure that that is the case. The unions are free to change the rules as they go along. Collective bargaining is always a risky proposition. Sometimes leadership gets it wrong.
Rank and file members of the unions do not have a vested property interest in the contractual rights their contracts yield enforceable as a matter of constitutional law. If leadership wants to change the rules and stick it to older members, that is a choice union leaders can make.
But the sense of betrayal runs deep in the unions. SEBAC looks less like Walter Reuther than it does like a bunch of goose-stepping cowards, dancing to the tune dictated by Malloy and his lieutenants. Were I a disgruntled union member I’d be exploring means to recall the current leadership; I might even explore a breach of duty of fair representation claim alleging that SEBAC colluded with Malloy, becoming little more than management stooges.
So long as leadership takes the position that it is free to make up the rules as it goes along, I wonder what prevents those unions that rejected the proposal from changing their bylaws and simply opting out of SEBAC. Were I a member of the union that rejected the governor’s proposal in the first vote, I’d be agitating for my leadership to pull out of SEBAC. What is SEBAC going to say to that: you can’t pull out now, the rules are the rules? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
SEBAC has already thrown fair-play to the dogs. Why need feed SEBAC to the wolves?
Who would have thought that the first Democratic governor in many years would become a union-buster’s best friend? Let’s see what the vote is next time around. A victory for Malloy will signal that labor is all but dead in Connecticut.
Oh, Dannel Boy ...