Tag Archives: sebac

Again from the top… this time with feeling!

After a week where SEBAC comes off looking even more rudderless, we are now starting to see voting schedules appear for the “Son of SEBAC 2011” Clarified Tentative Agreement.  It looks like August 19th should be the wrap up date, but if a union really wants to drag their feet it could be longer.  The delay in signing the clarified TA seems to have been that the job security language looks different when you have over 3,000 employees holding layoff notices.  We are hoping that everyone acts like adults over at OPM, but people who’s layoff take effect before the (hopefully, for them) ratification of the clarified TA might be kinda up shit creek…  I hope there is a process to recall even those notices and get them back on the job.

I think a few things need stating at this point:

Based on people I talk to at work, and comments I read on the InterWebs, I really do believe that many people don’t understand how their union works, how SEBAC works, or even how their contract works.  The people who assume that SEBAC is some kind of puppetmaster clique are also shocked when SEBAC reports that unions, and bargaining units within those unions, are to decide how to vote on this new TA.  What! SEBAC can’t force unions to do their bidding?

Just like the people who characterize union workers as unwashed pinko hippies singing the Internationale while masturbating to pictures of Chairman Obama can’t close the loop to explain how the NO voter contingent seems to be right wing libertarian free market types shitting their cage about ObamaScare… If you believe SEBAC calls all the shots, then why is the voting process such an uncoordinated freakin’ disaster?

Here’s why: Each of the 15 unions in SEBAC have a lot of autonomy.  The bargaining unit(s) (representing a single contract) that make up a union has some autonomy but usually they work through an Executive Committee comprised of bargaining unit leaders within that union.  As a result, the power in SEBAC really does flow “uphill”.  Unions dictate to SEBAC, not the other way around.  The ratification/voting bylaws changes that SEBAC passed only affect how the individual votes are processed by SEBAC, not how the individual bargaining units vote.

Next: the fact that there were over six weeks of negotiations that produced a concessions package, and that the unions were given time to go through the voting process, then regroup after a rejection, clarify terms, and organize a second round of voting, is evidence that a Governor was elected who was/is willing to work as a partner with the State workforce.  Meanwhile, In Parallel Universe Connecticut, [cue spooky organ music] the following things happened since January 2011:

  1. The Parallel Governor issued 5,000 layoff notices in April, and told SEBAC: “We’ll see ya’ in a year, maybe.”  With the majority of employees under contract through June 2012 the PG has no incentive to bargain.  Why bargain with a captive audience under an existing contract?  Plus, you can always stop answering the phone when the individual unions call looking to work out the next contract, and get a free wage freeze for FY2012 when SEBAC 2009 expires.
  2. PG Whatshisname has now cut spending deeply and will ride out the public outcry with the cheers of his supporters to block it out.  He has time to look at the union contract chessboard and decide whether to stall and force a 0% year in FY2012, go to arbitration and look for a rollback in the -2% to -3% range (happened in multiple Northeast states already), or spend the next year building support in the LOB for the revocation of collective bargaining rights for pension and healthcare.
  3. He is also just starting a 4-year term so his long term plan will include political wedge play to soften up spots for like-minded challengers in contested races.  He could have an anti-collective-bargaining coalition in office by his third year.  By which time he may have balanced the budget and have tilted the table fully his way.

My!  That dastardly Parallel Governor is a cold-hearted union buster!  How do you feel about that “nasty” Dan Malloy now?  After all of the rhetoric, and scare tactics, and people using this agreement as a referendum on everything from the 2010 Connecticut Governor’s race to fucking Obamacare, and right wing nutjobs like Johnny HotTub intentionally misreading every tealeaf to support their childish agenda of lies… uh… where was I?… oh!  you have a sitting Governor working with the unions, through the established bargaining process, to save state employee jobs and preserve public services.

Remember: The concessions package process is not a fait accompli.  Both sides have to want to work one out.  Otherwise we have a situation like those poor bastards over in Parallel Connecticut.  God have mercy on their souls!

Maybe this comes as a surprise, but I’m not a huge fan of the actual TA.  I do, however, understand why it exists, how it came to exist, and that it is far and away preferable to the alternative.  The TA itself, it has a lot to wrinkle one’s nose at, but almost every section has an “out”:

  1. Doubling the early retirement penalty, BUT, a way to preserve the current retirement age past 2022.
  2. Increasing healthcare costs to $100/mo plus a $350 annual deductible, BUT creating a program where you avoid those costs by engaging in active healthcare programs.  Use more healthcare, and it’s free! Also, you would have a public riot worthy of the National Guard if that $100/350 plan was offered to the general public, so haters, stop bitching about getting the cheapest insurance deal in the State, with an option for it to stay essentially FREE.  It makes you look stupid and petty when you complain about stuff like that.
  3. Pay 3% into a retiree healthcare fund for 10 years, BUT the system is funded on-time and you keep the current system in place through 2022. (There is a bit of bad math going around that this fee equates to a constant wage loss, because some people can’t tell a fixed cost from a salary increase… don’t be a dummy, figure it out)
  4. And, retirees COLA range is extended on the low end as well as the high end, where if you read the COLA language and look at the history you see that you are more likely to use the middle and the low end shouldn’t be a problem.  Read the whole section, ask your benefits coordinator, and breath easier.

I encourage people who are interested in this to really get their hands dirty and understand the bits and pieces, and educate themselves.  That allows a decision to be made on the facts, not on some “could happen” scenario, or what some guy told you his brother-in-law heard over coffee…   We’ve got about three weeks to have a rational discussion about this problem.  My vote is: Use It Constructively

The sound of the OTHER shoe dropping…

How many damn shoes does SEBAC have to drop, anyhow?  Apparently a lot of them.  This week we were treated to a major bylaws revision, along with a waiver for a 30-day notification requirement for bylaw changes.  As I reminded my friendly union chapter president today, I predicted that SEBAC would do whatever the needed to do to get the outcome they wanted.  If it means rolling in shit, then by gosh, roll in shit.  I mean, once you are covered in shit it can’t get much worse.  The main debate seems to be over the “why” question.  On the face of it, one could come to the conclusion that this is a way of telling the members “the deal was fine, the problem is with YOU”.  Those of a right-wing anti-union bent feel that this is a monument to political backscratching, giving Governor Malloy the “win” at all costs.  The SEBAC mantra of “save jobs, protect public services” just doesn’t have the cache it used to.

What we are awaiting now is news of how SEBAC will approach ratification of an agreement.  Will they pursue a revote on the old agreement, a vote on a newer “clarified” agreement, or just sweep in the old agreement under the new rules using the previous voting results?  Or some completely unpredictable approach?!?!

Stay tuned…

P.S. if SEBAC doesn’t mind a little more “mud” in their eye, they should vote to restore the old voting rules after this debacle is resolved.

Why SEBAC Can’t Read….

Just a few current-events type observations regarding the SEBAC 2011 drama…

First, if anyone followed the “sustinet” process back in the spring they would know that the creation of “sustinet” was thwarted, a commission to continue looking into possible efficiencies between public and private health insurance systems was created, and the only impact on SEBAC employee healthcare could have been that the State of Connecticut self-insurance system could have been accessible to people outside the state employee system.  Nobody was pushing State employees into someone’s program… but they may have been able to participate in ours.  BTW, to those state employees who have been in a cave for the past twenty years: private sector employees would crawl over barbed wire to get your health care package and low out of pocket costs.  The real world is knocking, and if you think you can hide behind the couch you are wrong.  The SEBAC 2011 deal would have let you keep your cushy helath care package for the next 11 years.  got it?  no?  too bad.  no cookie for you.

Second, bills to allow private sector and municipal workers to participate in the State’s self-insurance system come up almost every session, and at least every year.  This isn’t new, and it predates “Obamacare” by about a decade.  So shut the fuck up about “Obamacare” and SEBAC 2011 already…

Third… SEBAC has a communication problem, and they need to fix it.  Distributing the text of the draft tentative agreement, and final tentative agreement, and contract-specific tentative agreement, was all well and good.  It was all well and good back in the days of the mimeograph.  I am not a big fan of 21st century this and that… but this IS the 21st century. What SEBAC didn’t do was what anyone from a mom-and-pop operation to the United States Military Services do when they are trying to get a message across: break the agreement down into bite size chunks and make it simple… a PowerPoint type presentation might have made this a lot easier to grasp.  What SEBAC did was like the US Congress telling you to “read the damn Bill if you have any questions”.  Yes, the Q&A sessions were helpful, but that is a 60 minute event as opposed to the month that people had to engage in fear-mongering and misreading (both intentional and unintentional misreading).  Next, SEBAC needs to get their unions voting on a tight timeline with some real message control.  Letting one union’s vote tally go public a week before others unions cast a ballot is a massive failure of discipline and fairness.  Fix it, or resign and let adults take over.  Next, create a central clearing house email-address for inquiries about the deal, with official responses from the appropriate SEBAC delegate, and use the responses to update to a FAQ, and you have measurably increased accountability and transparency.  Those four “features” of clarity, fairness, accountability, and transparency, were, and still are, lacking in the SEBAC 2011 process.  Weeks after the official “no” vote we still have not heard directly from the leadership of the four dissenting unions… and if anyone believes that they don’t know what the problem was, they are delusional.

Last, Kevin Rennie should read before he blogs, and shut up about smoking guns until he actually has one.  All he was doing was serving up a post-vacation softball for his pal John Rowland to hit over the fence when he got back on the radio.  Rowland, like Rennie, cares less about facts now than he did when in office, which seems impossible, but there you have the proof.  Intentionally misreading things is becoming the “cat photo” of the right wing fear machine… the first time it is cute or dismissible as a dalliance, after that it says more about the lack of depth of the perpetrator than anything else.  AFSCME President Luciano was talking about opening access to the State self-insurance system, and how it was being confused with “sustinet”, which is just what Rennie did, and Rowland did, and most of the blithering idiot commenters on news feeds around the state continue to do… couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.

SEBAC had better have a really great “second act” or this is gonna blow up in their face in a really bad way.

SEBAC Power!

20110628-110154.jpg

The throngs of SEBAC 2011 “NO” Voters amassing on the lawn of the CT State Capitol! Rawr!

But seriously, if SEBAC pulls some kind of hokey bylaw change they will have lost my support entirely. I know “dirty pool” when I see it. The “outdated bylaws” whining was disgraceful when it was trotted out at Chapter 24 of CSEA P4, and again when the same union busting thugs ran that sorry game on P4, but to hear that crap from “the good guys” is beyond belief.

Dear SEBAC: Move on, cool off, and get your ass in gear for SEBAC 2012. Bargaining under one set of bylaws and voting under another sounds like fertile ground for a successful legal challenge, probably of the class-action variety. Don’t make a bad situation worse.

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?]

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.