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Union Leaders Call For Do-Over; Others Call Foul


Leaders of the state's unions say they're listening to their members as they push for a re-vote on the governor's plan to balance the budget by scaling back benefits for state workers.
But, as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, union leadership has its critics.
When state workers rejected the concessions plan, labor spokesman Matt O’Connor said it was democracy in action. But as Governor Dannel Malloy moved ahead with thousands of layoffs and deep budget cuts, the unions called for a do-over. And, again, O’Connor says it’s about democracy.
“Our coalition is a federation of democratic organizations and the most fundamental principle of democracy is majority rule.”
So that gets to the question:  If you can change the rules of the game after the game ends, what’s up with union democracy?
"In Connecticut, with a Democratic governor, you can't help seeing that there was incredible and unanticipated crisis between the membership and the leadership."
That’s Jonathan Cutler, head of the sociology department at Wesleyan University.  He studies unions, but is skeptical of the state's union leadership.  
“They didn’t come back ready to fight, ready to use the ‘no’ vote to pressure the governor. They let the governor use the ‘no’ vote to pressure them.  There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind what they’re doing.  They’re ramming it through.”
Cutler sees a union leadership more in touch with the interests of a Democratic party than those of its members. And he sees some workers willing to sacrifice jobs now for better benefits later. 
“I think the membership is saying, we’re not afraid of this recession.  Go ahead, take your best shot, we’ll slaughter the governor at election time, and when the revenues come back, the state workers will be rehired anyway."
O'Connor, the union spokesman, says he doesn't see a union crisis.  He sees an economic one.
"What we have is an economic reality that's facing everyone in the State of Connecticut, everyone in this country."
And that means losing thousands of jobs can't be an option.  So there will likely be a re-vote.  And Malloy says he'd like to see it sooner rather than later. 
For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.

Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.

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