Union Leadership Begins Tough Sell, GOP Says Deal Assumes Too Much
Patrice Peterson, president of CSEA/SEIU Local 2001, said the last time state employees opened up their contract with the state it was about money, but this $1.6 billion concession deal is about restructuring government.
She said the job security over the next four years is important and the two-year wage freeze — perhaps the biggest sacrifice workers are being asked to make — is mitigated by the extension of the health care and pension benefits.
Union employees upset by the deal their leadership struck with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration don’t have all the information, and as that information becomes available union leaders are getting phone calls back from some of those people saying, “Oops, sorry now I get it,” Peterson said.
She said getting the word out to all the union members will take a bit of time.
Daniel Livingston, the lead negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, said he can’t predict when all 45,000 union members will conclude the voting process. In 2009 it took the unions three weeks to ratify the agreement.
“I hope nobody makes a decision or is confused by the misinformation out there,” Livingston said.
“I believe that our members will understand it and that we will pass and ratify this agreement,” Peterson said.
Fourteen of the 15 unions and 80 percent of the voting members will need to ratify the agreement in order for it to pass.
The toughest concession in terms of money coming out of workers’ pockets is the two-year wage freeze worth $138.8 million in 2012 and $309.5 million in 2013, Livingston said. But in return, Malloy agreed to 3 percent raises in each of the last three years of the five-year agreement, which protects workers from layoffs for four years.
In the final few weeks of labor talks Malloy said he was prepared to lay off more than 4,742 employees if no deal was reached. About 182 notices went out before an agreement was reached and all were rescinded as Malloy waits for the unions to ratify the agreement.
Livingston said the changes to the health care package are what he’s most proud of, because it doesn’t require employees to pay more if they agree to manage their health by getting regular checkups.
He said that when workers pay more for health care, they don’t get needed treatment, so the other way to save money is to encourage people with value-based medicine. For those members unwilling to manage their health, they will pay an additional $100 premium a month, in addition to paying a $350 deductible for the first time.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said the assumptions made by the savings in the concession package, which were released Tuesday, are questionable.
“They’re sort being pulled out of thin air,” Cafero said.
As an example, Cafero highlighted projected savings from employee suggestions, which are estimated to save the state $90 million in the first two years of the agreement. Cafero questioned the state’s ability to find $180 million in savings from an “employee suggestion box,” over the next two years.
He also said $250 million from the health care initiatives, of which union leadership said they are most proud, is highly suspect. “It’s really on shaky ground,” Cafero said.
“Unfortunately, the more we see the details, the less there is to like,’’ said McKinney. “A four-year, no-layoff pledge, which no one in the private sector has, leaves us four years from now, right where we started. Unemployment in the private sector is 9.1 percent. Unemployment in government is zero percent.”
He said the plan to extend the SEBAC agreement to 2022 is another mistake because it binds the state to another 11 years, when it was Malloy who was critical of former Gov. John G. Rowland for inking a 30 year deal with the unions back in 1997.
“There’s a lot of this that just doesn’t make sense,” McKinney said.
He said no one is getting a wage freeze because they’re getting an additional $42 million by not being asked to take seven furlough days like they did in 2009 and 2010.
“We’re being sold a bill of goods in this concession package,” McKinney said.
That characterization was dismissed by Mark Ojakian, chief labor negotiator for the Malloy administration, who expressed confidence that the package is a good deal and the unions will ratify it.
“I think the state employees have given back a significant amount in this agreement. Is it everything that we had hoped for, No. Is it a fair compromise? Absolutely,” Ojakian said Tuesday morning.
Click here to read our previous report about how many retirements are assumed as part of the package.