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State Union Seek “Messengers” On Concessions Package

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SOUTHBURY, Conn. (AP) _ Given a second chance to ratify a labor deal that could stop thousands of state employee layoffs, union leaders in Connecticut are turning to rank-and-file members to help persuade their colleagues to vote “yes” this time.

Besides the traditional informational sessions with shop stewards about the proposed labor savings and concessions proposals, this time around the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition is tapping everyday members to participate in various public events, such as a rally planned for Wednesday at a state vocational-technical high school in Bridgeport that’s slated for deep cuts if the labor deal isn’t ratified.

SEBAC, which represents 15 state employee unions, has also asked members to sign up to become “messengers” who will reach out to their co-workers and explain the recently clarified agreement reached with the governor. And instead of the official union group spokesmen, rank-and-file union members are being offered up for media interviews to discuss the ongoing ratification process and what’s at stake for state services if the deal is not approved.

“Members have asked, `What can we do to help, we want to see the agreement passed,”’ said Matt O’Connor, a SEBAC spokesman. “Well, share your story.”

On Tuesday, dozens of workers at the Southbury Training School, many of whom received pink slips that will take effect in a few weeks, turned out to talk to the media about how the looming job cuts will hurt the training school’s residents with intellectual disabilities. Many said they want to let their fellow state workers know about the impact of the layoffs.

Kelly Quinn has been a behavior modification program specialist at the facility for the past nine years. She voted for the labor agreement the first time, but has received a layoff notice effective Aug. 26. Quinn said her brother lived at the Southbury Training School for 37 years, so she knows both professionally and personally how the job cuts will affect the more than 440 residents, many of whom are elderly and have lived on the sprawling campus for over 30 years.

“I really would love to be able to appeal to the other union members to think about the impact this has on the people who don’t have an opportunity to vote,” Quinn said. “The people who live here don’t care about concessions, collective bargaining or raises.”

“I’m asking people to step outside of themselves and think a little bit about the people who are being impacted,” she said. “Is the cost of this concession that high that they can’t consider other people?”

The tentative agreement is expected to save $1.6 billion in the new, two-year $40.1 billion state budget that took effect on July 1. If it’s not ratified, Malloy has offered a budget balancing plan that calls for 6,500 job cuts, including layoffs and elimination of open positions, as well as facility and program closures.

This second round of voting is expected to finish by Aug. 18, after many workers will have lost their jobs. As of last week, more than 3,000 layoff notices have been sent out to state employees. Most are expected to be rescinded if the agreement is finally ratified.

The deal includes a two-year wage freeze, followed by 3 percent pay raises and changes to health and retirement benefits in return for a four-year, no-layoff promise. It failed in June because not enough of the 45,000 unionized workers voted to support the agreement. SEBAC then decided to change its rules to make it easier to pass an agreement, requiring eight of the 15 unions, instead of 14, to ratify changes to a 20-year health and retirement benefit package that doesn’t expire until 2017.

SEBAC and Malloy’s administration then reached a second agreement that essentially clarified the first one.

Bob Gleason, a firefighter and an emergency medical technician who has worked on the Southbury campus for more than 23 years and has received a layoff notice, said he believes the efforts to clarify the deal has helped. A lot of rank-and-file members, he said, didn’t have access to computers or websites to learn more about the proposed changes.

“I think in this second time around, from what I’m getting, the presentation was an easier message to understand,” he said. “It’s the same deal, but … just simplifying the language has definitely helped. This extra push and effort to meet with people has definitely helped out.”

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