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Govt Workers Sue Connecticut to Avoid Returning to Work

Union claims working from home will combat climate change

Connecticut governor Ned Lamont / Getty Images
• July 20, 2021 12:40 pm

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Government employees are suing Connecticut to avoid returning to work, arguing that commutes contribute to climate change.

Public employee unions in Connecticut are insisting their members continue to have the option to work full time from home, citing environmental and legal concerns. Democratic governor Ned Lamont allowed government employees to work exclusively from home during the pandemic and is now resuming pre-pandemic guidelines that allow government employees to work from home part-time. The unions are refusing to comply with the reopening plans and are demanding a new telework agreement with the government.

"Many have been able to telework throughout and have been more productive, better for the environment, while protecting against the spread of the virus," the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition stated in a press release. "The program has been good for the missions of our agencies, good for the environment, and good for the state's bottom line."

This mention of climate change is absent from the injunction against the governor that will be considered in court in the following months. The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition did not respond to a request for comment.

Frank Ricci, a retired firefighter labor leader in Connecticut, said unions often create controversies as a way to boost negotiation efforts.

"You need to have a war to negotiate a peace treaty," Frank Ricci, a fellow at the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, told the Washington Free Beacon. "It is in these backroom settlements where both sides claim victory, where concessions are made on both sides with the taxpayers being the only losers."

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, a local affiliate of AFSCME, donated more than $500,000 to Democratic candidates in the 2018 gubernatorial elections, which included donations to Lamont, according to the Yankee Institute.

Connecticut businesses were able to fully reopen on May 19. Lamont, in a May 13 email to government workers, announced plans to fully reopen government agencies on July 1 and have union members return to at least 50 percent of in-person work.

"As we move forward, the state will continue discussions with the unions in an effort to finalize the telework guidelines that contemplates the considerable experience gained during this challenging period," Lamont wrote in the email.

The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The union stated that it had failed to negotiate a new virtual work policy prior to the pandemic. The injunction also mentions an apparent technical issue with a Google document that delayed the publication of its virtual work application form in recent months. The union claims the demands to return to work from the governor came amid ongoing applications for virtual work through this form.

Ricci, whose lawsuit against the New Haven Fire Department led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action, said Lamont would be making a mistake to let the union's demands affect negotiations.

"The governor has an opportunity not to fall for this ruse, to push back and represent the taxpayers or he can play the willing pawn running to the table to negotiate against himself and the interests of the taxpayers," Ricci told the Free Beacon.