Our librarian, Erin Walsh, who is a huge help researching old stories, just dug up an Associated Press article from 2003 when then-Republican Gov. John Rowland executed around 3,000 massive layoffs.
Essentially the unions began filing grievances to slow down the process.
Something to think about as Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy sharpens the ax…
Laid-off state employees are not leaving without a fight – a fight that could be expensive.
Union leaders are beginning to file hundreds of labor grievances, challenging the state over who gets laid off and whether workers’ contractual rights have been violated, among a litany of other issues.
Some unions are challenging, or plan to challenge, every one of the approximate 2,800 layoff notices that affect their individual members. Others are grieving particular issues on behalf of their entire memberships or groups of members.
“If they lay off the wrong people, it could cost the state a lot of money,” said Dan Livingston, chief negotiator for the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition. SEBAC negotiates health and pension benefits for the 13 state employee unions and 31 bargaining units.
Livingston claims too many contract violations have been made in recent weeks to count.
Admitting some mistakes have been made, state officials disagree that large numbers of workers have been wrongly laid off and could someday return to their jobs with hefty amounts of back pay. They are unfazed by the flurry of labor grievances expected in the coming weeks.
Linda Yelmini, director of the state Office of Labor Relations, said a similar tactic was taken by unions in 1991, when former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. laid off about 1,400 people.
In the end, she said, most were settled and only a few went before an independent arbitrator.
“The governor has the right to lay people off,” Yelmini said.
Marc Ryan, Rowland’s budget chief, said the administration has been very particular about which jobs are eliminated, carefully following the rules set by union contracts.
“We didn’t like doing this in the first place. We were hoping for union concessions,” he said. “We think we tried following contracts to the letter. There’s no question there’s going to be grievances. But I think we’re in pretty good shape in terms of fighting these grievances.”
Given the large number of job cuts, Ryan and Yelmini predicted that some mistakes probably were made. In fact, Ryan said some notices have had to be reissued because the wrong person received a pink slip.
“If we made a mistake, we’re going to remedy it,” he said.
There are typically three to four steps in the grievance process. First, a grievance is brought to a supervisor, then to the agency personnel director and finally the Office of Labor Relations. OLR is the last managerial review.
If OLR cannot resolve the matter, outside arbitrators make a decision whether the state is at fault and order a remedy. In preparation for the layoffs, the state has set up revolving panels of arbitrators to hear grievances regarding particular contracts. Arbitrators are paid $500 to $1,000 a day, Yelmini said.
As of Friday, Yelmini’s office had received 50 grievances. She expects many more to follow after making their way through the initial stages. Yelmini said there are some state agencies where unions have already filed an individual grievance for each targeted employee.
Approximately 500 people have already lost their state jobs. About 1,800 people are poised to lose theirs between Jan. 15-17 while the remaining 500 workers could be out of work sometime in late January to early February, Ryan said.
Rowland has said he will rescind more than 90 percent of the notices if the unions agree to about $450 million in concessions.
Rowland maintains that job cuts are one of the few ways he can reduce spending and help cover the state’s growing deficit, projected to be up to $650 million this fiscal year. The fiscal year that begins July 1 is estimated to be $1.5 billion in the red.
Much of the problem has been blamed on falling revenues, especially from the income tax. There is disagreement whether the legislature cut too many taxes or spent too much money during the good fiscal times.
Mike Winkler, president of the Administrative and Residual Employees Union, or A&R, has already filed 12 class action grievances affecting large groups of workers.
One grievance claims that about 40 trainees were not given enough notice before they were laid off. The union is seeking back pay for those workers. Ryan said the administration believes those employees were not yet covered by the contract.
A&R is also challenging whether outside contractors are being hired at the tax and insurance departments to perform work that can be done by laid off state employees. Ryan said he’s investigating the situation.
Given the sheer volume of grievances that will be filed, Winkler predicted it could take OLR as long as five years to finally settle all the complaints. Both Yelmini and Ryan disagree.
Winkler said the state wouldn’t be facing so many grievances if the administration didn’t eliminate entire classifications of workers in some instances. In 1991, the state layoffs were based primarily on seniority, he said.
“The bottom line is, (the Rowland administration) wanted to prove no one was safe,” he said.