In Two Days, One Night, released in 2014, the wonderful Marion Cotillard portrays Sandra, a young wife and mother who works in a small solar panel factory. After a temporary leave from work due to a nervous breakdown, Sandra returns to the factory only to learn that management has proposed to give all of her co-workers a €1000 bonus if they agree to make Sandra redundant by working a few extra hours each shift. The co-workers are not rich; they need the extra money for their own families. However, management tells Sandra that she can keep her job if she can persuade her co-workers over the weekend (hence two days, one night) to forgo the promised bonuses.
I won’t spoil the film for those who have not seen it, but the conflict that drives the film is clear: should each employee give up some money in order to save a co-worker’s job?
The members of public employee unions in Connecticut currently face the same basic choice. Should they agree to reopen contracts concerning wages and benefits and agree to concessions in order to avoid, or at least minimize, layoffs of their colleagues? The unions have an absolute legal right to insist that the state respect their contracts, and the state cannot force them to make concessions. But the state has the legal right under its collective bargaining agreements to reduce the size of the workforce through layoffs, and the unions can agree to reopen contracts. They question of whether they should is not a legal one, it is a pragmatic one.
The internal union debate over the above choice is complicated by an additional factor: seniority. Collective bargaining agreements place great importance on the length of an employee’s state service. If the state orders layoffs, as a general rule junior employees–the employees with the shortest period of state service–get laid off first. This creates a conflict of interest within collective bargaining units between the senior and the junior employees when deciding between concessions or layoffs. My sense, and it is only a sense, is that the junior employees, on balance, would prefer to see their unions agree to concessions in order to avoid layoffs, while the more senior employees want to retain the wages and benefits for which they have fought hard over the years.
I’m curious if my sense is accurate. I’ve created two polls (admittedly unscientific and dependent upon the honor system) for state employees and for the general public.