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Union seeks to work at home
[June 28, 2008]

Union seeks to work at home

(New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jun. 28--HARTFORD -- The bargaining unit that represents 25,000 active and retired state employees is asking Gov. M. Jodi Rell to authorize negotiations for telecommuting and at-home work assignments.

Robert Rinker, executive director of Connecticut State Employees Association/Service Employees International Union Local 2001, has sent the union's request to Rell by way of two letters. The first letter was dated April 14 and follow-up correspondence was sent June 16.

CSEA/SEIU Communications Director Matt O'Connor said Friday that Rell had not yet responded. The governor's office could not be reached for comment.

Donna Seresin, a sanitary engineer in the Department of Environmental Protection's Permitting & Enforcement Division, said she lives in Hamden, but must drive to Hartford to get a state vehicle. She then drives to sites in southwestern Connecticut to conduct stormwater management inspections, returns the state car to Hartford and then drives her personal vehicle back home.

"It's always been a waste of the state's time for me to spend four or five hours in the car," said Seresin, also a union steward.

She said it would save costs to the state for gas, reduce pollution and road congestion and increase her productivity if she could spend her mornings writing reports and doing administrative tasks from her home computer and be reimbursed for gasoline while using her personal vehicle to get to inspections.

"It would be more beneficial to the state if I did that. I waste a lot of time going to Hartford to get the state vehicle," Seresin said, adding that the union's proposal complements Rell's directive to state agencies for a hiring freeze, a ban on out-of-state travel paid by state funds and cuts in gasoline usage.

The governor ordered budget cuts of 3 percent to 5 percent at state agencies and commissions to offset an anticipated shortfall of about $150 million in fiscal 2009, which begins Tuesday.

O'Connor said workers who could benefit from flexible workplace, or "flexi-place" options, could report physically to regional satellite centers.

Legislation that would have allowed such arrangements, Senate Bill 673, An Act Concern- ing Improved Telecommuting Programs for the State's Workforce, passed in the Senate during this year's session but did not get called for a vote in the House.

O'Connor said the spirit of the bill can be honored through administrative policies if Rell allows the Office of Labor Relations to negotiate with the union.

"The fear of reaching $5 a gallon gas has people thinking a lot more about that bill than they did a few months ago when it was moving through the legislature," he said.

According to Telecommute Connecticut, a program that encourages telecommuting in the private sector, commuters who drive to work five days a week or 60 miles round trip, pay about $7,790 in commuting costs annually.

By telecommuting one day a week, they would save about $1,500 a year. At two days per week, the savings jumps to $3,000 for the year.

Some state employees have arranged alternative work schedules over the years, such as fourday weeks or an earlier start time with an earlier finish to the work day, O'Connor said. "We'd like to build on the successes we've had," he said.

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