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By Susan Haigh
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Frustrated about being “an easy target” in Connecticut’s budget battles, close to 200 state employee managers have so far agreed to join forces with a major state employee union in hopes of gaining more clout at the state Capitol.
Pamphlets have been distributed in recent weeks to a potential pool of 6,000 managers throughout state government, highlighting how they’ve become part of “an ever-shrinking workforce” that has “borne the brunt of the state’s fiscal challenges over the past few years,” including higher health insurance costs that left some earning less than what they did a few years ago. In some cases, it’s less than the people they manage.
“We have become an easy target,” one flier reads. “We can no longer hope for the best while letting our silence speak volumes ... If you are tired of managers and exempted employees being treated as an afterthought, then now is the time to stand up and be counted.”
As managers, these state employees are unable to bargain their wages, benefits and working conditions collectively, unlike many of the workers they supervise. However, they’re hoping that by organizing themselves in a union-like group and affiliating with AFT Connecticut, which currently represents about 10,000 unionized state employees, they will have more political power when dealing with lawmakers and management, and ultimately a louder voice.
“When there is an organization that grows so large, management gets a little bit leery,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel, who has done work in other states where employees are entitled to work in a unionized workplace but not required to join a union. “So they tend to say, ‘Hey, let’s sit down and talk about some of these issues before they get out of control.’ So it also gives you a little bit of leverage to get those types of conversations going.”
State managers in Connecticut used to be part of a similar organization affiliated with another union, but that group faded out over the years, Hochadel said. They later voted to affiliate with AFT Connecticut in 2017 and changed their name to Managers and Exempt Employees United or M&E in August, which prompted the recent membership drive.
The enrollment push comes as AFT Connecticut and other unions have recently organized groups of other state employees who were determined to be misclassified as managers or weren’t previously organized, such as the assistant state attorneys general. Their first contract was approved by the General Assembly earlier this year.
According to AFT Connecticut, approximately 900 new members have been brought into existing or new unions, gaining collective bargaining rights, since 2016. About 400 of those joined AFT Connecticut.
Republican lawmakers raised concerns about the assistant attorneys general contract, arguing in a March letter to Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont that it perpetuated policies that contribute to Connecticut’s expensive fixed costs.
“It contains the same benefits you believe should be altered in existing contracts,” wrote Sens. Len Fasano and Paul Formica, who urged the governor to oppose the General Assembly’s approval of the arbitration award, arguing it would “further hurt our state.” Despite such objections, the contract for the newly unionized workers was ultimately approved by lawmakers.
Fasano said Thursday he understands the managers’ argument about bearing the brunt of Connecticut’s fiscal challenges, noting “there are only so many places” in the state budget to cut. But the top Senate Republican blamed the trend toward more groups trying to organize on Lamont, former Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative Democrats agreeing to labor contracts over the years that included pay raises and job protections.
“This is the type of thing you can predict can happen,” he said.
Matt O’Connor, a spokesman for AFT Connecticut, said the Lamont administration has not opposed the union’s efforts to organize the state managers.
Asked about the campaign, as well as the growing number of non-managers who’ve unionized in recent years, Office of Policy and Management spokesman Chris McClure said, “we understand employees’ rights and our obligations under the collective bargaining laws, and respect the same.”