Category Archives: labor

SEBAC Wrap

I have avoided any blogging since the SEBAC 2011 agreement firmed up.  I certainly didn’t want to be in the group that was stirring shit up before the vote.  In what some are calling a “shocking” turn of events, the tentative agreement (TA), also known as a concessions package, was rejected under the bylaws of SEBAC.  The reason it was rejected is complicated because the media reporting is consistent in erroneously describing the voting process and requirements.  Simply: Each Union is comprised of Bargaining Units, Each Bargaining Unit represents a separate contract, and is comprised of Chapters.  Each chapter votes on the agreement, and the aggregate votes of the chapter determine how the Bargaining Unit votes.  All the votes from all Bargaining Units determine how that particular Union votes.  Each Union represents a portion of the employees within SEBAC.  For this vote there are two simultaneous standards: 14 of the 15 SEBAC Unions have to vote for it, and those unions have to represent 80% of the SEBAC mambership.  AFSCME represents over 30% of SEBAC, so if they vote “no”, the deal fails. They did, and it did… but three smaller unions also voted “no”.

We know a few things now that we suspected:

  • There were a lot of reasons to vote “no” if you were intent on voting “no”, ranging from immediate pocketbook issues to political gamesmanship
  • We had a lot of people running scare tactic games to swing that “no” vote, mostly political gamesmanship arguments
  • The unions who have always played their own game did it again… they are “special”, they believe they are above layoffs.  Time will tell if they are right.

We also had a few surprises, mainly CEUI voting “no”, and how close some of the bargaining-unit “yes” votes were.

I’ll come right out with what I think made this deal so hard for many to swallow:  Most CT state employees were working under a concession package from 2009, and that had two years of furlough days, two years of zero-increases, and a 2.5% pay increase in year 3, starting July 1, 2011.  The 2011 SEBAC deal took that 2.5% increase back (yoink!), set up another “charlie brown” 3% raise in 2015, and on top of the “concession of a concession” there were long term pension and health restructuring terms.  I think the weight of the cumulative “ask” was higher than SEBAC and OLR calculated, against the 4-year job protection “give”.  Also, despite the weird calculus of the hard-right, state employees are also paying the tax increases passed by the legislature, so some felt doubly dipped-upon.

Even with that analysis, I think the stability outweighed the drawbacks and voted “yes”.  I see not only my own tenure with the State as a public investment, but also that of my coworkers.  As a taxpayer and a state employee I know that the payroll savings are often/always offset by the cost of retraining/rebooting a program.  In some cases the “brain drain” is fatal.  Unfortunately, many people, both within and without state service, don’t see these programs as an investment.  That is a major failing of organized labor, and State government in general.

The idea that the modifications to the 1997 SEBAC collective bargaining health and pension package needed to be addressed now, and were so very urgent and essential to this concession package, is baffling.  SEBAC really fucked this up, along with the helpful folks at OLR.  Filling a 2-year budget gap, with a $1-billion per year price on the head of state employees, was how this stampede got started.  Putting long-term concessions into the deal in exchange for a slightly smaller than $1-billion per year ask by the Governor, was the grease on the rails.  The deal might have passed if it had been just a hard to swallow 5-year wage concession package.  But this lash-up of arrogance and optimism was doomed.  Reworking the SEBAC 1997 agreement (master agreement) would have been a cracking idea for a Malloy second term.  But we are seeing that Malloy doesn’t have that kind of vision.  Everything now, everything his way, or else.

That said, I also consider this entire debacle a massive failure for the credentials and effectiveness of Governor Dannel Malloy.  Yes, we have a budget deficit.  Yes we have 9.1% unemployment.  But balancing the budget doesn’t create jobs: job creation balances the budget.  Dan is in serious danger of failing Econ 101 as his first major act as Governor.  “See Me After Class” stickie, free of charge.  But job creation is hard, and manipulating budget items is easier, so Dan took the easier route (not to mention one in line with the “powers” of the Governor’s office).  What that means to me is that any economic turnaround will be coincidental with his budget balancing act, not a result of it.

But the SEBAC 2011 vote was not about the finer points of economic policy, a revote on the 2010 Governor’s race, ObamaScare, Sustinet boogeymen, or “sending a message”.  It was a ratification vote on a concession package.  I think that message got lost in the month between the announcement of the deal and the actual voting.  Add in the week-long delay between early and late voting unions (AKA Operation ClusterFuck), and it was a perfect storm of “how to miss the forest for the trees”.

Now… I fully expect the “no” voters to get out there and storm the LOB with their ideas that are going to solve the mess they created…  or, will they sit on their entitled asses and bitch?  Wanna piece of that action?!?!  It is looking like the “no” votes were made with no concept of an alternative, but a strong sense of “status quo” and a desire to keep it.  Sure, some people felt that they were burdened more than others.  But another thing lost in the discussion is that both the retirement age bump in 2022, and the health care revamp, came with options.  Want to keep your current retirement age past 2022?  Pay a max of 0.78% between now and your retirement.  Want out of the health maintenance plan?  Pay $100/month and one annual deductible.  That health care deal is, FWIW, something that most of the private sector employees would jump through a burning wall to get.

But wait!

[THIS JUST IN: SEBAC has tabled their vote to accept the results of the voting on the SEBAC 2011 tentative agreement.  “After reporting on their union’s balloting, a motion was taken for coalition leaders to cast a final official vote to accept or reject the agreement. A second motion was then raised to table the vote for 30 days, which was passed by consent.” Sweet Christ On A Crutch… what next?]

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Down to the Wire

The people of the State of Connecticut, and specifically employees of the State of Connecticut, should find out what came of the closed-door negotiations (discussions) of the past month.  The discussions really were closed-door.  There was noting in the way of credible leakage, and any real information came directly from the SEBAC member unions in the form of press-release type communications.

A few thoughts that have occurred to me while observing the chaos that this process has created among the rank/file:

1) There never was $1billion per year over the next 2 years to be extracted from State services.  I have already mentioned the simple arithmetic of $20k+ per employee… But even if the savings were to come in the form of consolidation and elimination it takes a lot more than just eliminating an agency’s budget.  In a case where the State wanted to pull out of a current effort, like, certain health care services, they would need to clear the decks of the grant commitments they have entered into with the Federal side (for example).  That isn’t like flipping a switch.

2) Most State programs that people howl about are actually heavily dependent on Federal funds.  And while that is taxes too, the issue at hand is the State of Connecticut’s General Fund. The array of State agencies falls into a few bins: huge agencies which have huge Federal funding (ie. DOT); Mid-Sized agencies with moderate Federal support (ie. DEP, Education); agencies covering core needs like taxes, revenue, public safety, prisons… that have varying amounts of Federal support, but are not on the table.  Bigger tie-in to Federal funds = less savings to the General Fund and less options to cease effort at State level because of Federal commitments.

3) Governor Malloy would be wise to take his self-serving bullshit about how the organized labor vote made the election closer than it should have been, and never let it see the light of day again.  People voted for Malloy, not the other guy, because they wanted Malloy.  Now that he is in office he should refrain from using his former opponent as a boogeyman.  Those votes got him a win in a close contest.  He can take that vote for granted all he wants, and try to make it seem that he was the only alternative worth voting for.  Nobody is as scared of the alternative (Governor Foley) as Malloy wants to make it seem.  Many in Labor are scared that Malloy the candidate seems to have little relation to Malloy the Governor, and we may have been, oh… how to put this delicately, lied to.  What organized labor has to fear will be clear enough in the next few days.  If Malloy thinks that the silence of organized labor is a sign of their compliance, he should wait until he sees the reaction to his announcement this week.

What we have been working up to here in Connecticut is the political version of the 2011 Japan Quake.  The negotiations have been building strain on both sides, and when that strain is released I believe we will see a tsunami-like reaction across all sectors of the landscape.  Everybody has been very good at playing by the rules and not talking out of class about the negotiations.  The political tectonics have continued without regard to that show of respect.

Stay tuned to your local political seismograph…

Why Dannel Can’t Add

Freshly elected Governor of Connecticut Dannel Malloy has a problem with basic math skills.  I, for one, believe that he has the ability to overcome this problem, but I am often wrong.  In this recent article about how Malloy is still “the man” for organized labor he makes the following bizzare statement:

Hundreds of union leaders gave Gov. Dannel Malloy standing ovations, but there’s no sign they’ll give him what he really wants:  $2 billion.

The money would come in concessions from the state workers’ unions’ contract with the state government, a contract they don’t have to open because it doesn’t expire til 2017.

“But I am asking the people of Connecticut to pay $1.5 billion more in revenue,” Malloy told them, explaining why he also wants the state workers to part with what amounts to $40,000 each over the next two years.

The reporter took it upon himself to do the math.  I don’t believe that Dannel Malloy explicitly stated those numbers in his speech.  If he did, he may have encountered more murmurs than applause.

To put a finer point on it, a state of 3.5 million people is being asked to contribute $1.5 billion in new taxes over two years, while 45,000 state employees are being asked for $2 billion.  An estimate of the number of tax paying individuals in CT might be around 1 million, so that figures to $1,500 each over two years.  45,000 of those people are state employees, who, apparently, are being asked to throw an additional $40,000 each in over that same two years to “help out”.

You may or may not know, I am one of those employees of the State of Connecticut.  I deal with data for a living.  I have a thing for numbers.  I’ve been working in environmental science for almost 25 years, more than 17 of that for the State of Connecticut.  If Governor Malloy thinks that this math adds up, he wouldn’t last a day in a real job.  If I presented this as an “equitable” solution to an environmental problem I would be in some serious hot water.  It would also call my skill and credibility into question.  Holding the Governor to a lesser standard is not the answer to our state’s problems.  I am absolutely sure of that.

Governor Malloy should be forthright about how he sees this as a equitable solution, and show his math.  Could he be so out of touch with the value of the US dollar that he believes that $750 per year and $20,750 per year are the same thing?  Will he be rescinding his tax increases in 24 months? I don’t think so.  On the State Employee front we may have to wait for the “other shoe” to drop before we know.  If I was betting, I would lay the whole stack on Malloy calculating that re-opening the 1997 collective bargaining agreement (signed by John “fountain of bad ideas” Rowland) is his “other shoe”, and layoff threats will be his shoehorn.  This is where the article gets foggy: The reporter refers to the collective bargaining agreement as Malloy’s target.  It would be hard to imagine a new agreement being struck that guts wages and benefits only in the first two years of a new long-term deal, so the Governor is either looking for a new and much deeper 2-year concession package, or something huge got left out of this article, or the reporter knows something that Malloy is leaving out of all of his official communication on this topic.

State employees in Connecticut are no strangers to concessions in a time of budgetary difficulty.  In 2009 State employees agreed to aprox. $750 million is concessions to the State of Connecticut in a 2-year concessions package negotiated by SEBAC (State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition).  That was a restructuring of some insurance co-pays, furlough days, and other “give backs”.  That agreement was reached under the underwhelming gaze of mysteriously popular placeholder and ribbon cutting professional Jodi Rell.  The Connecticut Legislature pissed that money away before the ink was dry.  Well, Dan Malloy is no Jodi Rell!  Or at least, that is his tune.  We’ll see.

Wage and Benefit Script-Flip

On a continuation of the previous post: What Americans have been subjected to over the past decade or so is social engineering applied to public discourse.

When public sector workers are demonized, and private sector workers (or the public in general) are holding “counter-protests” against public sector unions at the behest of political and media figures, I’d like to ask “why aren’t you protesting against your employers instead?”  The answer may be that they don’t have job protections and fear firing without due cause, which is something they might have avoided if they were involved in a collectively-bargained contract.  That bit of mind-bending irony aside:  I see a lot of “we in the private sector have had no wage increases…” or  “we have no leverage in obtaining fair and affordable health insurance…”  And somehow, instead of trying to improve that situation, they have decided to believe a group of billionaires who tell them that their quality of life is simply not affordable.    In almost every case, the income and benefit differences that are being used to motivate their opposition to unions are not a problem of public sector, organized labor wages outstripping the economy.  They are a case of private sector wages and benefits lagging behind the economy.  One thing that has not lagged behind the overall economy: PROFITS.  Those executives who told you that your health plans cost too much, your salaries were unaffordable, you needed to work longer hours for less, Federal Healthcare is a communist plot… many things that industrialized nations use as indicators of “quality of life”… they have had no problem finding windfall profits from either your efforts or your insurance premiums.  They shipped your quality of life offshore, but they still want their jet-set existance. Unions did not cause the huge income gap in the United States.  They did not create a robber baron class that has concentrated the majority of the Nation’s wealth in the upper 2% of its citizens.  Blaming unions for the single-percentage gap between public and private sector wages is suddenly became the hobby of people who make orders of magnitude more than the workers they have pitched into this battle by proxy.

Re: profit.  Most public sector jobs are not-for-profit, so the disconnect plays into the lie that there is a strong equivalency between say, building automobiles, and ensuring bridge and highway safety.  Why would multi-billionaires like the Koch (pr. “Coke”)  brothers care whether unionized workers made more than their wage-slaves?  Why would they finance a union busting Gubernatorial candidate and continue to provide financial and logistical support after his election?  Maybe because they were facing unionization efforts in their factories.  And if public sector unions don’t represent a better deal, the leverage of unions in the private sector is considerable weakened if not eliminated.  Union busting is still union busting, and anyone who thinks that their party, or favorite media outlet, or tough talking salt of the earth governor is above union busting in exchange for cash is simply fooling themselves.

The Enemy Within

When processing the anti-organized-labor diatribes from these supposed defenders of The American Way, at least consider that the motivation for stripping unions of their rights has much more to do with lowering the bar than lowering any deficit.  These are the same people who have shipped our industrial base to third world sweatshops, and have reneged on their “promise” of a full-employment high-tech wonderland.  What they have delivered is a nation based on retail sales of cut-rate goods from countries with very low wage and benefit standards.  They have collected massive subsidies, both tax relief and direct payments, from the same governments and in many cases have returned *nothing*. In Wisconsin, you have a situation much like we faced in Connecticut 10 years ago under convicted felon John Rowland.  The real problem with unions is that they didn’t contribute sufficient campaign cash to the Republican party.  Wealthy individuals, on the other hand did.  They would like the tax dollars that go to the public sector to be directed into their pockets.  They have a Governor who agrees.  Everything else in the argument is complete bullshit.

Speaking of Connecticut, when you see folks like the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) crying about how overpaid the public sector is, do consider that what they really want is a lower bar for their own employees wages and benefits, lower degree of protection for our environment, less enforcement of workplace laws, less enforcement of tax collection…. It is self serving in the most crass and harmful way.  State subsidies to the private sector have risen from $3million 20 years ago, to over $330 million today.  And *nowhere* in the discussion of budget cutting will you hear that sacred cow asked to accept less.  The working poor, the middle class, the sick, the abused, and so on… they will be asked to give, and give again.  The working-class heavy tax hikes hit the mostly working-class state employees in a way that the millionaires of the state love to call a “double hit” when it applies to them.

As much as I agree that state governments should be looking to eliminate branches wherever the work can be transferred to the private sector without a decline in service, we have seen much more graft an sub-par work under private contractors that by public employees.  The breakdown of the motor-vehicle emissions inspection program, and the failure of the privatization of highway construction inspection program for the I-84 “little dig” are just the peaks.  And peaks they are.  The emissions inspection program has been reduced to nothing (the intent, I believe) and every day thousands upon thousands of motorists travel over a highway in Connecticut with improperly constructed drainage and culvert systems.  More privatization, or less State oversight, is simply not what the public needs, though it might be exactly what wealthy patrons of our elected officials were promised.