Unions filed a lawsuit Monday demanding collective bargaining rights for active duty Connecticut National Guard members in the governor-ordered state, saying they should have the right to organize the same way as civilian employees of the state.
A 1978 federal law criminalized it for members of the armed forces, including the National Guard, to join or attempt to form a trade union organization. But the law only applies to service members while on active federal duty ordered by U.S. military officials, according to the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
The clinic represents four unions of employees in the state of Connecticut who have filed a lawsuit against US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice. The lawsuit seeks to confirm that the law does not prevent members of the National Guard from unionizing while on active duty in the state and that they will not face criminal charges for doing so.
Connecticut National Guard spokesman Major David Pytlik declined to comment on the trial allegations but said in a statement the Guard had “no bearing on the court’s interpretation of federal law “.
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s office and the Justice Department declined to comment on the complaint, which was filed in federal court in Connecticut.
“When we are on active duty, we are proud to help our home state respond to natural disasters, public health crises and other emergencies,” Christopher Albani, former member of the 103rd Civil Engineer Squadron at East Granby, Connecticut, said in a statement. “We just wish we had the same opportunity to come together as the civilian employees of the state we work alongside.”
The Connecticut National Guard has been called to state service several times over the past two years. Members assisted with clean-up efforts after major storms, assisted police in response to protests, and served during the state’s response to the coronavirus, including establishing field hospitals and distributing supplies during the first few days of the pandemic.
Still, members of the Guard were unable to negotiate COVID-19 safety precautions, even though state employees they worked with directly could have a voice in COVID-19 testing, the team safety and other necessary precautions, “said Jody Barr, a former National Guard member and current executive director of Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union of 30,000. members in Connecticut.
Council 4 is one of four unions that filed the complaint, along with the Connecticut Police and Fire Union, the National Association of Government Employees, and the Civil Service Employees International Union Local 2001.
Grace Judge, an intern law student at the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic, said the lawsuit appears to be the first litigation over federal law prohibiting members of the Military Guard from unionizing in the service of the State.