In an unexpected administrative reshuffle, Connecticut’s Director of Labor Relations Linda Yelmini has been asked to leave her post.
Last week, Yelmini received notice of her dismissal, effective on Jan. 20 of next year, from Ben Barnes, the secretary of the Office of Policies and Management. According to state law, civil servants like Yelmini cannot be abruptly fired. But Yelmini — a non-partisan who heads the department that negotiates and directs the state’s relations with its unions — said her termination came without warning.
“I was told I was being laid off and I was being replaced by a ‘political appointee,” she said. “I asked [Barnes] who, and they told me they didn’t know yet. They can appoint anyone they would please.”
Yelmini said she expects the appointee will come from the Democratic Party.
Because of the state law, Barnes has made her dismissal part of a reorganization of the Office of Labor Relations, but one that only affects Yelmini. Yelmini has held her post for nearly two decades, serving under Republicans and Democrats alike.
Yelmini said she had no idea why she was laid off and that no major union-related disputes had occurred recently.
In a memo sent to Barnes and Deputy Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Karen Buffkin last week, Yelmini accused the OPM’s leadership of violating state law. She said that she was being “constructively discharge[ed] without just cause,” and that the state had overstepped her due process rights. Yelmini said she is considering all legal options to combat the dismissal.
No clear motivation for Yelmini’s sudden dismissal has emerged. Barnes did not return a request for comment. On Nov. 24, the Hartford Courant reported that Andrew Doba, spokesman for Gov. Dannel Malloy, would not comment on “personnel matters.”
The dismissal took union representatives by surprise. Chief negotiator for the state Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition Daniel Livingston said that organized labor had not sought Yelmini’s ouster.
“We are not aware of any particular reason for the announcement of Linda Yelmini’s layoff, which came as a complete surprise to state employee union leaders,” he said in a Monday statement.
Matt O’Connor, a spokesman for the Connecticut branch of the American Federation of Teachers union said that there has been speculation about the dismissal and that the AFT is watching developments reported in the press.
Nancy Dinardo, head of the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee, told the News that she would prefer not to comment on the issue.
Last month, Malloy announced a hiring freeze for all non-essential state employees due to substantial cost overruns for the 2015 fiscal year. By removing Yelmini from her position through reorganization of the department, Malloy must create a new position and hire a new employee.
In a Nov. 29 column published in the Hartford Courant, Jon Lender raised questions about whether adding another position during a hiring freeze is fiscally sound policy.
“Why add a new position in the budget office during what’s become a perpetual budget crisis, when there’s supposed to be a hiring freeze?” Lender wrote.
Before serving as director of the OLR, Yemlin served on the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Public Safety.