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House Sends Labor Agreement to Senate

by | Jul 24, 2017 8:53pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Labor, Legal, State Budget, Special Session, Pensions, State Capitol, Transparency

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie HARTFORD, CT — The House voted 78 to 72, mostly along party lines, in favor of the agreement the Malloy administration reached with a coalition of state labor unions.

Rep. John Hampton, D-Simsbury, was the only Democratic lawmaker to vote against the deal, which still needs to pass the state Senate.

Hampton said he opposed the extension of the contract another five years to 2027, the guaranteed four years of protection from layoffs, and the raises in the last two years of the agreement.

He said he felt the deal would “prolong the fiscal crisis.”

Other Democrats expressed concern about the deal, but eventually voted in favor of it.

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said he feels like the deal really does give away quite a bit to the state workforce, but he’s not convinced the Republican alternative getting rid of collective bargaining would withstand a court challenge.

“I suppose I will be supporting this agreement no matter how reluctantly,” he said.

Republican legislative leaders agreed with Hampton but failed to amend the resolution with their own budget proposal, which would have attempted to get rid of collective bargaining.

One of the loudest objections from Republican lawmakers Monday resulted from House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz’s decision to move forward with a vote on the agreement without a complete legislative analysis.

The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis was unable to complete its review of the 21 wage contracts for 34 bargaining groups before the House voted.

“It begs the question why are we voting in the House on the contracts when we have no idea what the fiscal impact is to the state of Connecticut,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said lawmakers deserve an analysis before they vote on something.

“There’s no technical reason and no practical reason to vote on this today,” Klarides said.

The health and pension part of the deal, according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, saves the state $371.8 million in 2018 and $328.6 million in 2019. The overall deal, according to Malloy’s administration, will save the state $1.57 billion over the next two years.

Legislative analysts were unable to do a similar analysis of wage portion of the deal because it didn’t have enough time. They only received the agreement at the end of the day Friday.

“People in this building have the right to be educated on the votes that are put before them,” Fasano said.

He said his staff received all the contracts last Thursday night and doesn’t have the expertise necessary to review them. He said he expects to have a full analysis of the wage contracts by next week when the Senate votes.

AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel said the analysis will find that the deal saves $24 billion over 20 years.

“Legislative Republicans appear more interested in protecting corporations and hedge fund managers than resolving Connecticut’s budget challenges,” Hochadel said.

The unions sent an “action alert” this morning to their members asking them to reach out to their representatives and support the agreement.

“Unbelievably, Republican legislative leaders have publicly stated their opposition and are apparently prepared to turn down $1.56 billion that would help close shortfalls in the next two years,” the action alert reads. “Your representatives need to hear from you before taking the first step in a process to determine whether they’ll accept these savings or make a bad budget situation worse.”

Aresimowicz said earlier in the day that this is the first step in the two-year budget.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, said if lawmakers reject the deal then they don’t get all of the savings on the health and pension portion of the agreement.

“It’s really a choice about collective bargaining,” D’Agostino said.

He said they would wind up in court if they also tried to reject the negotiated wage agreements.

“Zeroes are zeros. We’ve collectively bargained for that zero,” D’Agostino said.

Since the current pension and health contract goes to 2022, the legislature can’t make unilateral changes to that part of the agreement without violating contract law.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie Described as historic by many, D’Agostino, said the unions have agreed to take on the risk of litigation over the changes the state is making to healthcare for retirees. The agreement moves retirees to Medicare Advantage plans to save about $200 million per year.

“That doesn’t show up in any actuarial analysis,” D’Agostino said of the litigation risk. “We no longer have that risk. They do. That’s what collective bargaining does.”

But many lawmakers were also upset about the contract extension and the no-layoff clause.

“Unfortunately, what we’re passing here today will tie our hands for not just the next biennium but for 10 more years,” Rep. Chris Davis, R-East Windsor, said.

The health and pension portion of the agreement was extended until 2027, which would put it out of reach for the next two gubernatorial terms.

Still, some were concerned with the bigger picture and how the agreement fits into the overall state budget. The state has been operating through an executive order since July 1.

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said when employee salaries and benefits make up 40 percent of the state’s budget and the state is staring down a $5.1 billion deficit over the next two years then something has to give.

“It’s not the only choice we have,” Lavielle stressed.

Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, wondered how are they going to shut down the Southbury Training School or the Connecticut Juvenile Training School if they can’t lay off the staff?

She said there’s bipartisan agreement about the need to move to more community settings for both those populations, but that can’t be done without the authority to reduce the workforce.

D’Agostino said the no layoff provision doesn’t apply to new hires and it doesn’t apply to the state police or employees who aren’t willing to be reorganized or retrained when a prison is closed or an agency is merged with another.

Klarides said she felt “sadness” for most of the day listening to the debate and the choices lawmakers were given.

“The circumstances we are in right now are so dire,” Klarides said.

She said she doesn’t know how Democrats reached the conclusions they did regarding the deal. She was also frustrated they did not raise the labor agreement the same day they debated a two-year budget.

It meant the Republicans were unable to raise their budget for debate. They tried, but were denied because it wasn’t within the rules.

Malloy applauded passage of the deal Monday, but also offered a warning.

“I remind lawmakers that as each day goes by with this plan unapproved, certain savings that this agreement will create will dissipate. I urge the Senate to adopt this agreement in concurrence with the House so that it can go into effect and these savings can develop as soon as possible,” Malloy said.

The state Senate is expected to take up the deal on Monday, July 31.

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