Labor Negotiations Reach A Critical Point As Layoff Notices Go Out
HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has tried mightily not to negotiate with Connecticut’s labor unions through the news media.
On Friday after a state Bond Commission meeting, he declined to characterize the negotiations, which sources say have been difficult but are beginning to yield results.
As part of his budget proposal, Malloy has asked the unions for $700 million in concessions in 2018 and $856 million in 2019.
“It ain’t over till it’s over,” Malloy said Friday.
The last time Malloy negotiated a deal with the unions was back in 2011 and not everything went as planned, giving both Malloy and the unions reasons to be cautious about their public statements.
Even if Malloy and the unions agree to concessions, the union leadership will still have to vote on whether to open up the health and pension portion of the contract that doesn’t expire until 2022, and if they succeed in doing that then the rank-and-file union members will have to vote on whether to accept whatever concessions are part of that deal.
The first vote on the negotiated contract received the support of 57 percent of the union’s rank-and-file members, but failed because it didn’t pass 14 of the 15 bargaining groups.
The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition went back and revised its bylaws and then held another vote on the exact same contract. That contract provided layoff protection, no wage increases for two years followed by three years of 3 percent increases; no furlough days; shaved cost-of-living increases for pensions; it raised the retirement age by three years for those retiring after 2022; and instituted a new $35 co-pay on emergency room visits. It passed on the second vote under the newly adopted union rules.
That year Malloy promised to lay off 6,700 employees in order to balance the budget without an agreement in place.
This year he’s looking at 4,200 layoffs without an agreement in place.
Layoff notices have started going out, Malloy said Friday.
While sources say the two sides have been negotiating in earnest and are close to a deal, AFSCME Council 4 posted a message on its website for their membership describing the negotiations as “difficult and often times frustrating.”
It says that the union is working hard to avoid layoffs, service cuts, and reductions in pay, pension, and health care.
“Throughout the process, we have been guided by several important principles, including the need to secure protections against layoffs and contracting out, to offset the impact of wage freezes, and to extend the current health care and pension agreement,” the statement on the website says.
It’s that last part about extending the contract that will be the most difficult to sell to the governor and lawmakers, who have been critical of the 20-year deal former Gov. John G. Rowland gave the unions.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said “no way” to the extension of the contract.
She said the governor shouldn’t agree to any extension of the contract and if he does it will become part of his legacy.
But the unions have to give their membership something and an extension of the contract will be viewed as respect for the collective bargaining process. It would also help the unions survive the next governor.
“Our goal is not simply to protect our members’ jobs and services, but also to prevent an economic disaster that would inevitably result from layoffs, wage and benefit cuts and the loss of bargaining rights,” the message reads. “The impact on our communities would be devastating, from dramatically reduced consumer spending that will hurt local businesses to rising property taxes to cuts to vital local services, including public safety and public education.”
The unions also acknowledged the worsening budget situation.
“Revenue dropped $1.5 billion, on top of the $3.6 billion deficit projected for the next two years,” the statement says. “But Connecticut public workers did not cause this economic crisis, and the deficit cannot be closed on the backs of taxpaying public employees. We need a fair and equitable solution that includes vehicles for raising revenue, like restoring taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations and their CEOs.”