Boston -- Officials in the office of Governor Mitt Romney engaged in unfair labor practices against state attorneys, according to New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (New England PEER). In a letter sent today to the Joint legislative Committees on Public Service and Commerce & Labor, the watchdog group warned that the administration's handling of a statewide reorganization process constitutes illegal union-busting, and called for the legislature to investigate.
The charges stem from Governor Romney's plan to create a new separate legal department within a proposed Office of Solicitor General (OSG) in the Governor's office. As part of the plan, Romney declared that as many as half of the state's 800 attorneys will be laid off this year. Those who survive the cut would be pulled out of their individual agencies and placed in to the new OSG unit. According to the letter, Romney's plan includes a number of prohibited practices, including:
· Forbidding state lawyers from membership in government employee unions;
· Forcing employees to leave their agencies without allowing their seniority rights to be transferred; and
· Reclassifying attorneys to become "at will" employees, so that they may be hired and fired without cause and without appeal rights.
To carry out this plan, Governor Romney hired Ruth Bramson as the Commonwealth's Director of Human Resources, best known for her efforts to break up the Shaw's supermarket unions (see attached fact sheet on Bramson and Shaw's). According to sources who attended a meeting on March 25, 2003, with Bramson and John Jesensky, the Commonwealth's Director of Employee Relations, Jesensky was asked whether the Governor's plan, if approved, would give the Governor the authority to fire any state employee without giving a reason or proving any cause for the firing. Jesensky answered in the affirmative.
"Under this plan, the Governor will be able to fire, demote or banish regulators who do not march in lockstep with his agenda," commented New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, noting that attorneys are the state's chief enforcers of the state's clean air, wetlands and endangered species laws. "These attorneys represent the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and should not be subjected to intimidation if their professional calls threaten the Governor's political or business interests."
Critics voiced strong opposition to the plan today. "This is old fashioned union busting, plain and simple," stated Theresa McGoldrick, President of Unit 6, Local 207 at NAGE, a union that represents 600 state agency attorneys. "Romney's plan is both offensive and illegal." The Union has demanded to bargain on the proposal to lay off 50% of the attorneys, and has filed an unfair labor practice against the administration for violating the collective bargaining agreement. NAGE has committed to utilizing all of its resources to prevent the lay off of any agency attorney and to strip them of union protections.
"Unlike the Governor, we think there are too few attorneys working on environmental protection," commented Pam DiBona, Vice President for Policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts. "Companies are already escaping accountability for their actions, and continue to poison our water, land, and air. Enforcement of existing environmental laws will only fall further behind if the Governor's proposal is put in place."
If the Governor's proposal is implemented, the Commonwealth would be thrown back to the spoils system and political patronage that existed in 1883. Massachusetts was the second state in the Union to pass a Civil Service Law in 1884.
The Joint Committee on Public Service oversees all matters concerning public employees, and the Joint Committee on Commerce and Labor considers all matters concerning discrimination with respect to employment and labor laws.
Read about Bramson's attempt to break up the Shaw's supermarket chain: