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A coalition of public employee unions in Connecticut say the governor’s decision to mandate that workers return to their offices violated a previous agreement between the organization and the administration.
Connecticut state employee union leaders are suing Gov. Ned Lamont, claiming that his order requiring workers to stop telework and return to their offices violates a prior agreement and ignores the benefits of a “flexible” remote work agreement.
The lawsuit, filed last week in state Superior Court by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, claims that Lamont ignored a June 2020 agreement that “required a joint process, on an individual agency basis, to discuss returning employees to the work site.”
The coalition, which represents more than a dozen public employee unions, said that Lamont violated that agreement in May by sending an email to state workers saying they would be required to return to their offices as of July 1, with telework limited to no more than half of working hours and contingent on manager approval.
“Agency heads will work to stagger teleworking schedules to keep the number of people in the office reduced to support distancing, but with low levels of community spread and use of masks in common areas or where distancing is not possible, we are confident it is safe to return to the office,” said the governor’s email, sent May 13. “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.”
That action “violated, ignored and effectively abrogated” previous agreements between the unions and the administration by mandating a work schedule for union employees while applications for telework were pending, denying applications to work remotely more than 50% of the time “without considering them on their merits or following the agreed upon process,” and “unilaterally pre-assigning telework rotations of 50% without regard to applications.”
Lamont’s office has not commented on the lawsuit. In his May email, the governor noted that the decision to return state workers to the office was similar to policies enacted by businesses “across the state.”
“It is time for us to plan for our new normal working environment,” he wrote.
In a statement posted on its website, the coalition said it “remains confident in the merits” of the court case.
“The positive experience that many of our members have had with telework has been an unexpected silver lining during the pandemic,” it says. “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 program has been good for the missions of our agencies, good for the environment, and good for the state’s bottom line.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.