Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Union member files labor complaint

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, September 30, 2011 1:07 PM EDT

VERNON — A town mechanic has filed a complaint with the state labor relations board claiming that the town intimidated him and other workers into ratifying their union contract by issuing layoffs to the public works and parks and recreation departments.

“A layoff notice is a scary thing in this economy. Your life, job, family, and home are at risk,” Gary Vincent, a public works employee who works as the Police Department mechanic, said Thursday. “I had to do something, it was eating away at me and others.”

Vincent, who is acting as an individual in the matter and represents only himself, is one of 42 members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 4, Local 1471 union that received layoff notices in mid-August.

The town rescinded the layoffs after union members ratified their negotiated contract on Aug. 25 and the union agreed not to pursue legal action.

Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy said the layoffs were necessary because the union’s contract rejection made him personally liable for a $113,000 budget shortfall after annual insurance payments came due.

But negotiations between the town and union had been going on for months, and it’s unclear why the shortfall was not anticipated and why ratifying the contract suddenly became urgent.

Vincent said that the chronology of events is telling, and workers were content to follow normal arbitration procedures until the town issued pink slips to all 36 public works employees and the six members of the parks and recreation staff.

“You vote ‘no’ on the contract and five days later, department-wide layoffs go out,” Vincent said. “You vote ‘yes’ on the contract and layoffs are rescinded. It’s that simple.”

While the general consensus between workers and town officials is that contractual language — not salary increases — was the sticking point in the contract, Vincent said of the insurance shortfall, “if money was an issue, lay off as many as you need to cover the loss, not a whole department.”

In terms of the labor complaint’s goals, Vincent said he’s realistic about what could be accomplished, but he’d like to see controversial sections of the contract reopened so workers can discuss contentious issues free from the threat of losing their jobs.

“People were up against a wall,” Vincent said, adding that the pressure to ratify was enormous.

McCoy is not running for re-election as mayor and has said he’s seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate but has yet to file necessary paperwork. He declined to comment on Vincent’s labor department filing.

Although at first hesitant to take action, Vincent said he felt it was important to speak up, because the effectiveness of McCoy’s layoff notices in exacting contract ratification sets a dangerous precedent.

Vincent, who filed the complaint Sept. 23, said he did so, “if not for me, for my fellow union workers and future contract negotiations.

“Let the labor department figure out who is right and who is wrong,” he said.

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