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“U & I in Union:” Protecting the Jobs of Our “Extended Family”

Greg Gunn (above, right) has for 29 years provided vital data services at the University of Connecticut’s main Storrs campus. As a production control analyst, he coordinates around-the-clock processing functions that support the institution’s teaching, research and outreach missions.
 
“We’re responsible for running over 300 batch jobs nightly,” said Gunn, referring to the volume of tasks overseen by his Information Technology Department (ITS) team. 
 
Operations were three years ago transferred to a new server, replacing an outdated mainframe computer system. The upgrade took place as protections from layoffs for members of state employee unions were set to expire. A 2011 agreement blocked the administration of Governor Dannel P. Malloy from relying on job cuts to transform state agencies — or close budget gaps — through June of 2015.
 
Click here for press reporting on state employee union members’ 2011 job security agreement.
 
Despite mastering a new set of skills related to the upgrade, ongoing state budget challenges left Gunn “concerned about my future.” So, too, were leaders of his local union, our AFT Connecticut-affiliated UConn Professional Employees Association (UCPEA).
 
“We’ve always stayed at the table beyond contract talks,” said UCPEA President Mike White (above, left). Remaining engaged with management during the university’s frequent organizational remodels enables union leaders to “stay ahead of anything that may negatively impact members.” 
 
In 2015, the focus was on monitoring “how those changes might play out once our job security protections ended,” added White, the Storrs campus dining services assistant director.
 
By the time Gunn received a pink slip in the summer of 2015, his union leaders “were already looking for ways to alleviate the layoff.”
 
“Each position is connected to a person,” said White, referring to the “human element” at the core of union representation. “It’s an emotional time, not just for Greg and his family, but his co-workers — and union leaders and staff, too,” he added.
 
Click here for press reporting on the announcement of the 2015 layoffs.
 
Local leaders initially identified several veteran members eligible for retirement whose voluntary decision to step aside saved the jobs of more senior employees. While Gunn was not among the first round placed in new positions, an additional contract provision governing staff reductions provided both additional time — and cause for hope.
 
“The other thing we have in our contract that affords some comfort is the notification period for layoffs,” said White. He pointed out that Gunn’s years of service required the university’s human relations department to keep him on the job a full 12 months before terminating his employment.
 
Click here for the relevant language in our current UCPEA contract.
 
The wider window proved invaluable — additional union members stepped forward to retire voluntarily, allowing the university to rescind further layoffs. Gunn learned his position would be spared, and he was soon assigned his current post. 
 
Crediting the support and guidance with keeping him focused on a resolution, Gunn said “union leaders stayed in contact with me personally throughout this difficult time.”
 
White said the solidarity of fellow union members, combined with strong contractual protections, together provided a powerful solution to a difficult problem. Looking back three years later, he is not surprised that Gunn’s co-workers would play such a key role in saving his position.
 
“It’s natural to feel that, when we work with each other every day, we’re all extended family,” said White. “It’s nice to see — especially in today’s political climate — that people still care about each other,” he added.
 
Click here to watch Gunn and White share more on how the “union difference” proved its worth when jobs were on the line.
 
Gunn’s experience reinforces the benefit of members’ collective bargaining rights, but also serves as a compelling argument to maintain unity for the unknown challenges that lie ahead. With corporate-funded special interests ratcheting up their ongoing attempts to weaken our collective voice at this pivotal labor crossroads, it’s value has never been greater.
 
Click here for more on our “U & I in Union” campaign to cement the solidarity that binds our movement.
 
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