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Union Leadership Begins Tough Sell, GOP Says Deal Assumes Too Much

by Christine Stuart | May 18, 2011 7:30am
(14) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Labor, State Budget

Christine Stuart photo

Matt O’Connor and Daniel Livingston

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 About 182 notices went out before an agreement was reached and all were rescinded as Malloy waits for the unions to ratify the agreement.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.

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(14) Comments

posted by: StunningContradiction | May 18, 2011  9:59am

Yeah, I’m still pretty sure I’ll be voting No!

posted by: JAM | May 18, 2011  10:19am

Other than the wage freeze (offset by guaranteed increases in the future and other promises), this “concession” agreement is a big gamble that a lot of assumptions come true; AND the taxpayers are taking all the risk.
Any CEO of any corporation that reported this with a straight face would be laughed off the street.

posted by: skydogct | May 18, 2011  10:28am

I believe there is an undercurrent being pushed by Republicans for a no vote. They hate this deal, they feel the union didn’t cough up enough. and they know that a no vote would be cause for layoffs to occur. It would also increase public opinion against public unions, making it even worse than it is now. A no vote is a win for Republicans and would make it easier than ever for them to attempt to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers in CT. I don’t believe state employees are that stupid.

posted by: BMS | May 18, 2011  10:34am

Anyone planning an early retirement after 9/1/2011 but prior to 6/30/2017 is a no vote.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | May 18, 2011  10:40am

I don’t think the GOP has much to worry about. The proposed deal asks for way to much - the biggest of which is changes to healthcare and pension, not wages - and gives nothing in return.

Union leadership should be ashamed of themselves for trying to promote this deal.

NO votes will win in a landslide.

posted by: WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot | May 18, 2011  10:52am

WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot

Tough Sell to say the least. Better bring in the big guns to pull the wool over the eyes of all union members, new and old.

Can I have another sip?

posted by: Matt W. | May 18, 2011  11:17am

Matt W.

This isn’t even smoke and mirrors. Its more like Groucho glasses with the big nose and eyebrows.
The gimmicks are laughable!

We’re going to save 100M by instituting a $35 co-pay on emergency room visits?  So I guess each of the 45,000 state employees is expected to visit the emergency room at least twice?  Laughable.

posted by: Disgruntled | May 18, 2011  12:07pm

Cafero questioned the state’s ability to find $180 million in savings from an “employee suggestion box,” over the next two years.

HOW DARE HE QUESTION SOMETHING LIKE THAT!! IF DAN SAYS IT WILL SAVE MONEY,IT WILL SAVE MONEY!
JILLIONS OVER THE NEXT THOUSAND YEARS!
Smoke and mirrors!
Smoke and mirrors!

posted by: NOW What? | May 18, 2011  1:36pm

“StunningContradiction”: IF you are a State employee - which I doubt - You’d be NUTS to vote against this deal. To “vote down” this agreement would result in - literally - the TEARING DOWN OF CONNECTICUT… Connecticut’s economy would be COMPLETELY destroyed. And if you ARE a State employee, that means you’d have to kiss your current job & benefits GOODBYE - REGARDLESS of what you think your “seniority” is.

I’m not a State employee, politician or union “leader” - Connecticut’s in THAT serious of a situation, I kid you not.

posted by: NOW What? | May 18, 2011  1:39pm

“JAM”: In fact, corporate CEO’s do this sort of thing with their labor forces ALL THE TIME! They just don’t report it publicly in the press, because they’re not REQUIRED to. Often they don’t even report any of this sort of stuff to SHAREHOLDERS!!!!

posted by: NOW What? | May 18, 2011  1:45pm

“skydogct”: YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT.

ANYONE who is gullible enough to actually believe and act on posters who say “VOTE NO!” does so at their own - and at others’ - GRAVE RISK. And I mean *GRAVE*.  I can’t *possibly* overstate this. Republican and other right-wing extremists are working VERY hard - online and elsewhere - to get this agreement KILLED any way they can, even if it means posing online as a State employee and urging union members to “VOTE NO!” They’re sophisticated, their intentions are DISHONORABLE, and they DON’T CARE if they drag the entire State and its citizens down.

posted by: JAM | May 18, 2011  2:52pm

SteveHC,
Do exactly what sort “things” with their labor forces all the time?
Make stupid deals? Some do, yes.And they get punished in the market place and real world. See GM, Chrysler, Bethlehem Steel, and scores of others.
Guess you’ve never heard of 10-Q’s and other SEC reporting requirements.
Please spare me the BS. The State of Connecticut has never kept straight books (heard much about GAAP lately?), overestimated its investment returns for pensions, etc, and made an art out of keeping the public from knowing the facts.
The chickens have come home to roost, and Malloy is simply trying to cover that up with more droppings from the coop.

posted by: StunningContradiction | May 18, 2011  3:13pm

@SteveHC - I *am* a state employee and I don’t care if you believe me or not. As for the rest of what you wrote I say, “blah blah blah.” Connecticut’s government is broken just like the federal government. The only way to fix it is to let it fail.

posted by: Noteworthy | May 18, 2011  9:13pm

lol, what a steaming pantload of crap. This is not a tough sell. This is a gift. No layoffs. Still max out overtime to boost pensions; 9% raise and a minimum deductable on health insurance including of all things, emergency room. What a crock. That’s all before you get to the gimmicks used to get to $1.6 billion, hundreds of millions that don’t even count. Meanwhile on the other side of the ledger, taxpayers working in the private sector will pony up $3 billion and live with 401ks; and health insurance with 2500 deductables and emergency room fees of $125. Yeah, really a tough sell. If union leadership can’t sell this gift, they are stupid.