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Senate Passes Collective Bargaining Reforms; House Declines, But Labor Gets Message

by | Jun 30, 2011 9:08pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Labor, State Budget

The Senate tackled changes to collective bargaining and passed the bill 30 to 6 shortly after 8:30 p.m. Thursday, while the House debated a bill that gives Gov. Dannel P. Malloy increased rescission authority.

House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, made it clear earlier in the evening that the House would not take up the collective bargaining changes being debated by the Senate.

“We’re not debating that today,” Donovan said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t bring it up if the deal doesn’t go through.”

He said the collective bargaining bill will remain on the House agenda and can be taken up in the future if the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition can’t reach an agreement on the $1.6 billion concession package. And despite SEBAC’s inability to delineate a clear path forward, Donovan remained optimistic.

“If there is no agreement we may be dealing with these issues. So right now we are concentrating on dealing with the budget issue. That’s why we came in,” Donovan said.

A staunch supporter of labor, Donovan said he hopes state employees will take notice that the item is remaining on the House calendar.

Asked whether the unions are bothered by that fact, Matt O’Connor, SEBAC spokesman, said “we’re confident we’re going to reach a resolution.”

But that’s not to say the unions don’t take seriously the legislation the Senate passed Thursday.

“It’s a real fiscal problem, but the last thing we need to do is make permanent changes that have real implications for the quality of life in Connecticut,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor remained confident SEBAC would reach an agreement on the concession package even though under its current rules the vote could not be ratified.

“Chances are good that it passes,” O’Connor said. “How we get there I really don’t know.”

Republican lawmakers said the support by some Democrats to change how pension benefits are calculated was “for show.”

“With respect to changes to collective bargaining, it’s all a show,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said. “There is no intention of passing that legislation. It’s just about showing that they’re tough when in fact they really aren’t.”

“The voices of all of our constituents have been silenced by the willingness of Democratic leadership to give all of this power to Governor Malloy,” McKinney said.

The Senate spent several hours on the bill, which they acknowledged was largely symbolic.

The bill focused on eliminating longevity payments for state employees not yet eligible for them and freezing longevity payments for those already receiving them. The longevity changes could be made to union contracts as they come up for renewal, but the pension benefits would not be changed until 2017, the expiration of the SEBAC agreement.

The bill also would have changed the definition of “salary” for pension calculations in order to exclude overtime, longevity, fees or any other payment in the calculation.

It passed with broad support on both sides of the aisle after a debate marked by uncommon agreement.

“Albeit [the bill was] symbolic perhaps and not real because it won’t be taken up in the House, it is an important one nonetheless. It is a sign for the first time in my 13 years that as Democrats and Republicans we agree on making some long-term structural changes,” McKinney said.

McKinney said that in passing the bill, the chamber set the state on a very different path. He hoped the House would someday soon take up the measure, he said.

Senate President Donald Williams said even that if the House never takes up the measure, it wasn’t pointless. He compared it to amendments submitted by Senate Republicans all the time.

“We know that those amendments rarely have a chance of passage and becoming law. However, you bring those forward to send a message. You bring those forward to present your ideas so that perhaps – not today – but perhaps tomorrow, next week or next year, they resonate,” he said.

If the bipartisan consent seemed unusual so did the points of contention.

Early in the debate, observers scratched their heads as they watched Enfield Republican Sen. John Kissel defend longevity payments for some state workers while the traditionally pro-union Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, called for their end.

Prague said people should have the ability to negotiate good salaries, good pensions, and good health care benefits.

“I don’t believe people should get paid longevity for working 10 years just because people stayed in a good job,” she said.

Sen. Leonard Fasano of North Haven was one of two Republicans to vote against the bill. He said it was starting to seem likely that the unions would find a way to ratify an agreement and the bill only existed as something to hold over their heads.

“This is just hanging in the House to make sure the deal goes through and no structural changes that this body, this Senate bipartisan says they want – it’s not going to happen and I as a legislator refuse to vote for a bill that’s going to die as soon as it leaves that clerk’s desk,” he said.

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(11) Archived Comments

posted by: Hebee | July 1, 2011  5:30am

Speaker of the State House Chris Donavan, a former Union Leader, apparently continues to work for the Unions at the expense of the other 98% of his Meriden constituents. State Rep. Zeke Zaleski of Southington (an AFLCIO/ Teamster Past President), Union Organizer/Speaker Donovan and others in the Legislature need to, at least pretend, to work for the people that voted for them in their districts. Instead they blatantly choose to represent the people who pay them in their Union day jobs and finance their re-elections. It is time for these Union Lackeys to go.

posted by: ko4478 | July 1, 2011  5:20pm

Well HEBEE, I’m thinking just the opposite. I want to know who the faux friends of working people are in the Senate. Donald Williams comes increasingly to mind.

posted by: ko4478 | July 1, 2011  5:28pm

In fairness though, longevity payments should be eliminated, They are miniscule for the average worker,while some pigs at the top get significant sums of money. But this has never been about cutting anything from management’s fat purse.

posted by: mightymouse | July 1, 2011  8:25pm

I agree with ko4478 regarding longevity payments. Funny though, when the suggestion was presented in a union meeting about giving up longevity the union reps. said that wasn’t an option….gee, I wonder why?  I’m all for giving back and believe everyone needs to do their part.  Two years ago we gave up raises, took Furlough days and still had Union dues taken out of our paychecks every pay period.  Frankly, I don’t see the unions ever having to sacrifice…well, until now that they’re afraid of losing union dues from 7,500 State employees. State employees are realistic and not greedy. The reason the agreement didn’t pass is because of the lack of confidence for the Union leaders and employees have had enough.

posted by: Bill Dunne | July 1, 2011  10:34pm

Would be nice if, in one of these stories, somebody bothered to explain what a “longevity” payment is.  Is it like a one-time bonus somebody gets at certain time thresholds?  Or is it a recurring payment of some kind?  What’s the magnitude of the payments?  Obvious questions, you know?

posted by: Doug Hardy | July 1, 2011  11:18pm

That’s a fair question, Bill - we should have included that somewhere but I don’t know if we did so.

I searched around and found a few different stories that say employees are eligible to receive longevity bonuses after 10 years. The bonuses start at about 1 percent of annual salary and go up to 3.5 percent after 25 years. I don’t know if that’s calculated on base salary or OT, etc.

Average longevity payment for the FY that just ended was $1,228 with the majority receiving less than $1,000. But there were 30 or so who got $10,000 or more. Here’s a link to a good piece by the Courant.

posted by: sharewhut | July 2, 2011  9:49am

Take a look at this link- it’s the DAS page with all the compensation plans and associated longevity schedules.


posted by: sharewhut | July 2, 2011  9:54am

The ‘All Plans/All codes’ applies to any units that don’t have ‘longevity’ listed as a separate line.

posted by: chapep | July 5, 2011  8:17am

I don’t know the answer to this…  do the elected officials receive a retirement from the State?  Do they have to serve a certain number of years, and then get a % of their income, or, how is their retirement figured? 

Also, do they get insurance upon retirement?  Again, how many years do they need to be employed as elected officials before they are entitled to this insurance?  Do their spouses also get this insurance?  Do they have to pay for their spouse’s insurance, or is it free?

posted by: CT Jim | July 5, 2011  10:30am

Chapep, Yes Legislators do get both a pension and retiree health care benifits according to a OLR research report dated July,9th 2003 the reference # is 2003-R-0521. Its states that depending on how long they have been there they can either be tier1, tier2 or tier 2A. assuming most are tier 2A they are vested for their pension at 5 years and can start collecting without penalty at age 62. After 10 years of service they qualify for lifetime health insurance which they can start at age 55. I believe as with other state workers that includes their spouse. The calculation is done the same way a state pension is calculated so i’m fairly sure they are not extravagant. Facts is the average state pension is $26,000 a year and that includes those large ones that some outlets like to expose as the norm. I hope this helps.

posted by: sharewhut | July 6, 2011  4:26pm

Also applies to other elected officials. Roland is due to collect annual pension of $5,000 times years as Governor (11)-$55,000 at age 55. Would presume similar arrangements for other elected executive spots.

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