Union Workers Were Unfairly Targeted in CT

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Connecticut officials targeted nearly 3,000 state employees for firing because they belonged to a union, the 2nd Circuit ruled in a stunning reversal for labor rights.
     In December 2002, after failing to get the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition to agree to $450 million in concessions, then Gov. John Rowland and his budget director, Marc Ryan, laid off 2,800 state employees who belonged to the union.
     Labor organizations and state employees filed suit, claiming that the unionized workers were targeted for firing.
     In 2002, approximately 37,500 or 75 percent of the state workforce belonged to SEBAC. Though just 12,500, or 25 percent, were not union members, none of the nonunion members were laid off.
     U.S. District Judge Alfred Covello concluded in 2006, however, that Rowland and Ryan had sovereign immunity as to the claims for damages by the unions and workers. Covello also called for further proceedings to determine if legislative immunity would bar the plaintiffs’ claims for an injunction.
     Reversing that decision last week, a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit said that the plaintiffs had fully supported their First Amendment claims.
     The court also revived the claims against Rowland and Ryan in their individual capacities and remanded to the District Court for a determination of equitable relief.
     Pointing to a 2001 decision, the 2nd Circuit said that Rowland and Ryan’s purported inability to pay damages is no excuse to exclude them from the complaint.
     Rowland and Ryan’s actions were not “narrowly tailored” to serve a legitimate government interest, according to the ruling.
     “Defendants have not shown why the state’s fiscal health required firing only union members, rather than implementing membership-neutral layoffs,” Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for the panel. “Defendants have stipulated that all state employees, whether or not they belong to unions, receive the same health care and pension benefits.”
     The Republican Rowland and Ryan explained the layoffs as the result of “economic necessity caused by the state’s fiscal year 2003 budget deficit,” according to the ruling.
     The federal appeals court concluded, however, that the layoffs “had a minimal effect” on the fiscal year 2003 deficit.
     Rather, the firings “were ordered as a means of trying to compel the plaintiff unions to agree to the concessions demanded,” Lynch wrote.
     “As plaintiffs have shown that defendants fired employees based on their union membership without narrowly tailoring the terminations to a vital government interest, plaintiffs were entitled to summary judgment on their First Amendment targeting claims,” Lynch wrote.
     Daniel Livingston, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called the decision a “tremendous victory for the free speech rights of all Americans.”
     “The court held that when a governor punishes people because of the group to whom they belong – whether it’s a union or a political party, or a religion – he or she violates our Constitution’s most cherished provisions,” Livingston said in a statement.
     Rowland, who now has a talk radio show on WTIC-AM, encouraged Connecticut to seek a rehearing en banc or further appeal.
     “I think it is imperative that the state appeal this decision, either to the full circuit Court of Appeals or even to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Rowland said in an email. “Our administration acted in full compliance with all collective bargaining agreements, which the unions agreed to in court. This decision however will have significant impact on all future budget negotiations here in Connecticut, nationally, and even locally. This appeal would be on behalf of future governors, mayors, first selectmen and most importantly the taxpayers of this state.”
     Gov. Dannel Malloy said Thursday that the state is still reviewing the decision and weighing its options.
     Malloy, a former prosecutor, said he saw “the possibility of this exposure” when he was observing the events unfold a decade ago.
     “What this decision seems to turn on is the obvious acts of a governor who was frustrated by circumstances and then meted out not cuts, the argument is punishment as a result,” Malloy said at a Capitol press conference. “Labor relations is not about punishment. It’s about getting to an agreement.”

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