How We Began
1975 was a watershed year for state employees in Connecticut. In its session that year, the General Assembly passed, and Gov. Ella Grasso later signed into law, Public Act 75-566, An Act Concerning Collective Bargaining for State Employees. Up until that time, state employees had little voice in any of the issues of importance to them in the workplace. Their wages were determined by the state legislature, as were their general hours of work. All other working conditions were defined by policy enacted by the employer.
Newly armed with the ability to negotiate over wages, hours and working conditions, state employees began searching for unions that could most effectively represent them in collective bargaining with the employer. At about the same time, categories of job classes sharing similar knowledge and skills requirements, called bargaining units, were being developed by the state. Eventually, a total of thirty-one individual bargaining units would be defined. In secret ballot elections held during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, employees placed in these various bargaining units chose from among several national unions seeking to represent them. Voting over two days in November 1980, members of the professional bargaining unit in the Judicial Department chose representation by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) through a local affiliate later to be known as the Judicial Professional Employees Union (JPE). The members of the newly formed union ratified our original Constitution in July 1981 and our first election of officers was conducted in September of that year. Our first collective bargaining agreement took effect in April 1982 and in June of that year we became a fully accredited Local of the American Federation of Teachers. Since that time, we have negotiated six additional collective bargaining agreements with the Judicial Branch and played a key role in concluding three pension and health care agreements with the State. We now represent over 1000 Judicial Branch employees throughout the state of Connecticut.
What We Do
Our union, like all others, is principally charged with negotiating and enforcing collective bargaining agreements. Within that broad mandate are a myriad of routine activities. Negotiation involves extensive research and preparation before spending long hours face to face with the employer’s representatives. Very often, the services of an arbitrator become necessary in order to secure a satisfactory contract. The arbitration process demands additional research, preparation and strategizing. The agreement, once obtained, is then explained to our members before being submitted to the General Assembly for its review. During the legislative review process, we actively and intensively lobby General Assembly members so that they understand the new agreement’s provisions.
Once a contract is in place, it becomes our responsibility to make sure that the employer applies its provisions properly. We are in regular contact with the employer’s representatives to address any problems of contract interpretation, which may have arisen in the workplace. Problems are often identified and, in many instances, solutions are implemented through informal conversations and meetings. However, when informal resolution isn’t successful, we seek relief through the formal grievance procedure or through appeal to the State Board of Labor Relations.
Perhaps our most important activity involves assisting employees who, for whatever reason, have come into conflict with the employer. In this context, issues may range from relatively minor misunderstandings to allegations of major misconduct. We are proud of our record of representing members embroiled in disputes with the employer and dedicated to continuing to provide those services in the future.
How We Are Staffed
Our office is open Monday through Friday during normal business hours. Our Executive Director has primary responsibility for all office operations. In addition, his duties include maintaining regular contact with the employer’s representatives and representing members in the grievance process. Our attorney takes over once a matter in dispute proceeds to arbitration. He also represents our Local in any forums in which a legal response is required. The members of our Executive Board, along with our more experienced Stewards, are information resources for members in the various agency offices. They can often provide useful information on the spot. In other instances, they are knowledgeable as to whom to contact when the answer to a question is not readily apparent.
Understanding All the Letters in Our Name
Our official title is: Judicial Professional Employees Union, Local 4200 B, AFT, AFT-CT, AFL-CIO. The term ‘Local’ is storied in labor history. It denotes an organization that is a small segment of a larger entity. In our case, that larger entity is the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which represents public employees and health care workers in addition to teachers nationwide. With over one million members, the AFT is a major presence in national issues. Both its professional staff and technical support are available to Local leaders whenever necessary. The AFT’s affiliate in this state, AFT-Connecticut (AFT-CT) also represents public employees, health care workers and teachers. The organization provides invaluable assistance in lobbying our issues at the General Assembly. A total of five other state employee unions are affiliated with AFT-Connecticut. We all work closely together to share information and resources wherever possible. Finally, we are aligned with the AFL-CIO, which provides additional resources to its constituents, through our national and state affiliations.