Cutler Speaks about Connecticut Union Members in Hartford Courant

Jonathan Cutler

In an opinion piece for The Hartford Courant, Jonathan Cutler, chair and associate professor of sociology, explains how a austerity budget deal brokered by Connecticut’s governor with a coalition of public employee union leaders was then torpedoed by rank-and-file union members. The Connecticut deal was initially applauded nationally because Democratic Governor Malloy, unlike Wisconsin’s Republican governor Scott Walker, seemed better positioned to win painful union concessions without sparking street protests by labor and liberals. Those applause came too early, however, as state employee union members rejected the cuts agreed by an anti-democratic union structure created by the the state and foisted on the unions years ago.

In the piece, Cutler writes, “The change in the bylaws may represent a defining moment for state labor unions,” Cutler writes in the piece. “Traditionally, each individual union retained control of its own wage negotiations, and coalition bargaining was limited to retirement and health benefits. As is clear from a wage-freeze provision in the proposed concession agreement, the SEBAC [State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition] has now extended its reach into the domain of wage bargaining.

At its inception, unions fought against mandatory coalition bargaining. They lost that battle but as a sweetener to wary union members and some skeptical union leaders, the SEBAC bylaws set a high threshold for the ratification of agreements. This put limits on SEBAC’s power — and the state’s power to control collective bargaining with state employees. Now, if the recently revised bylaws stand up to challenges over the legality of the process by which SEBAC leaders made amendments, SEBAC will be able to put over concessions even if 49 percent of the union members and/or seven of the 15 individually elected unions are opposed.

Some disgruntled union members are being courted by outside unions. They may throw out their current union in an attempt to get out from under SEBAC. But it won’t work. They cannot escape SEBAC. And under the new bylaws, their ability to influence SEBAC has been decimated.”

Read the full opinion piece online here.