Federal Court Rules Connecticut Governor Illegally Laid off State Workers for being Union Members
A public employees union in Connecticut won a major victory this week in federal court, where a panel of judges ruled the state’s former governor was wrong to lay off thousands of union workers, but not non-union members more than a decade ago.
During negotiations in 2002 between the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) and the administration of Republican John G. Rowland, the governor demanded the union concede $450 million worth of demands.
SEBAC balked at the demand, and Rowland, along with his budget director, Marc Ryan, responded in December 2002 by laying off 2,800 workers—all of them members of SEBAC. At the time, about 37,500 (or 75%) of the state workforce belonged to SEBAC. Although another 12,500 employees were non-union, only union members lost their jobs.
The union responded by suing the state, claiming it had been singled out for punishment. It lost its case before federal District Judge Alfred Covello in 2006, who ruled that Rowland and Ryan had sovereign immunity to any claims for damages by the unions and workers.
SEBAC asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decision, and a three-judge panel reversed Covello’s ruling. The appellate court said limiting layoffs to unionized employees violated their constitutional right of association.
“[I]mportantly, defendants have not shown why the State’s fiscal health required firing only union members, rather than implementing membership-neutral layoffs,” Judge Gerard E. Lynch wrote for the court.
Although Rowland was elected governor three times, he was forced to resign in 2004 over charges that he had accepted bribes. He pled guilty to “depriving the public of honest service” and spent more than ten months in federal prison and four months under house arrest. He now hosts a conservative radio show.
To Learn More:
Second Circuit: Rowland Firings Violated Workers' Rights (by Thomas Scheffey, Connecticut Law Tribune)
Union Workers Were Unfairly Targeted in CT (by Christine Stuart, Courthouse News Service)
State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition v. Rowland (Second Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)
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