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State union workers coalition wins telework arbitration

Ned Lamont & union vaccine.jpg
Ned Lamont addresses a campaign union rally in 2018.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) told its members this week that an arbitrator won them the right to negotiate telework on the job. The news came as an early pandemic-era agreement, which allowed many unionized state employees to work remotely 100% of the time, was set to expire at the end of the year.

Travis Woodward, a union member and an engineer who works at the Department of Transportation, thanked the members of SEBAC’s statewide telework committee.

“I represent engineers, scientists, information technologists and educational support staff,” he said. “If there was a silver lining for the pandemic, getting this telework passed was it.”

Woodward said he had been pushing for over a decade to allow state workers more flexibility to telecommute. Now SEBAC workers will be able to appeal to negotiate how many days they would like to work remotely.

”We’re currently in a surge in Connecticut with COVID, and the administration has been great about it,” Woodward said. “They authorized the maximum use of telework, whether that’s 80-to-100%, and that just gives employees a lot of flexibility with their jobs.”

Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration had wanted workers to cap their telework hours, but the unions won the right to exceed that cap and negotiate work from home on a case-by-case basis.

The win was a result of a binding arbitration hearing that ended in November, according to the coalition’s website.

A statement to SEBAC members said arbitrators won the right to the following updated policy:

"4.10 An employee may request telework schedules of any amount the individual believes to be consistent with job duties and operational needs.  All such requests shall be reviewed and granted, denied, or modification suggested in accordance with the procedures and standards of this policy, except that the determination of an agency to refuse to grant telework above an amount that would provide one day per workweek at the worksite shall not be subject to arbitration under this policy."

The full final policy still needs signatures. Now members will be able to appeal “any denial or modification of a telework application that would result in a member being required to be at the work site more than one day per week.”

Woodward said this would likely apply to school support staff, but not staff like teachers, who would be required to prove that they do not need to perform an in-person component to their job.

Cassandra Basler is a radio reporter and editor at Connecticut Public. She has covered juvenile justice, the opioid crisis, immigration, social justice and inequity. You can find her reporting in New Haven and Fairfield counties. She previously worked at WSHU Public Radio and her work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Here & Now.