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Massachusetts-based union seeking to represent Connecticut prison guards

Massachusetts-based union seeking to represent Connecticut prison guards

By Associated Press  |   Friday, July 22, 2011  | |  Local Coverage

HARTFORD, Conn. — A Massachusetts-based union is trying to force a vote that would allow it to represent prison guards in Connecticut, a process that could complicate current budget negotiations between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and public employee unions.

Christopher Murphy of the National Correctional Employee Union said Friday that his group has targeted a bargaining unit known as NP-4, which represents almost 5,000 guards, parole officers, councilors and other prison employees in Connecticut. That group is currently represented by Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union.

Murphy said the guards in Connecticut believe they have been “sold out” by the state unions, which recently voted to change their bylaws in the hopes of getting a labor savings package approved. The guards’ bargaining union was one of those that rejected the deal, which was designed to save the state $1.6 billion.

Murphy’s union was formed in 2008 and currently represents just over 1,000 correction workers in Massachusetts, he said. It needs to gather signature cards expressing interest from 30 percent of NP-4 members to present to the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations, which could then order a full membership vote.

“From what I see, it looks like we’re going to be close,” he said Friday. “We hope to file relatively soon, depending upon that 30 percent, and then it should go to a vote relatively quickly. The process is rather swift, so that process should be over by the end of October.”

“We hope that this would send a clear message that the state employees are very upset with the current package and the current process,” he said.

Jon Pepe, President of the AFSCME Local 391, said his organization believes it will be able to withstand any takeover effort.

State regulations say the union representation can only be legally challenged during a month-long legal window, the August before a contract expires, Pepe said. He said that window closed at the end of last August.

He also said any challenge would involve a state hearing and then a vote of union membership, something that could not be done quickly.

“By the time you ever get a Labor Board decision at all that, we should have our contract signed,” he said.

Murphy said his group believes the legal window to replace AFSME reopened once the state’s last contract with the union expired in June.

He acknowledged that it would be unlikely his group would be able to intervene in the current contract negotiations, but he said they will pursue “every legal avenue to stall the process” if it becomes clear that unionized correction workers want their representation.

If the labor board receives a petition, it will open an investigation and hear arguments from all sides to determine if the challenge is valid, said Nancy Steffens, a spokeswoman for the state Labor Department.

“Before it goes before the labor board, it is very difficult to say whether it would be accepted or not accepted,” she said.

Murphy said another union, the New York-based United Public Service Employees Union, is in the process of trying to replace AFSME as the representative of clerical workers in the prison system.

“It’s not just the correction officers that feel they have been sold out,” he said “We’re hearing from a lot of different categories of state employees that are very upset.”

But Pepe said he expects AFSME to be able to beat back any challenge.

“I’m very confident that our members know what we’re trying to do for them and they know that AFSME got them every single benefit and wage increase that they have as long as they’ve been employed” he said. “What is a Massachusetts union of a few county employees going to do for Connecticut state workers in the Connecticut legislature?”

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