By David Moran
August 16, 2011
A union vote on a concession agreement to plug the state’s $1.6 billion budget gap is expected to be completed by Thursday, but the ramifications of not ratifying the agreement could be felt for some time.
By the end of the week, Connecticut residents should have a solid idea of how the state plans to close a $1.6 billion budget gap over the next two years – either through sharp reductions in personnel and services, or through a majority of the state’s more than 46,000 unionized employees agreeing to wage and benefit concessions.
The bulk of union employees will vote on the concession agreement this week, and the outcome of those votes is expected to be released by noon Thursday, according to union officials.
But it’s hard to argue that almost everyone in Connecticut does not have something invested in the outcome of the union vote, from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose administration negotiated the agreement and whose approval rating could dip even further if rank and file union members again rejected the deal and the only alternative the governor was left with was massive layoffs, further cuts to already strapped state budgets and widespread facility closings, to ordinary citizens who would face everything from longer lines at the DMV to less oversight of the state’s natural resources, environment and utilities.
Malloy’s $40.1 billion biennium budget, which took effect July 1, still has a $1.6 billion hole in it stemming from a failed attempt to wrest that amount in concessions from unionized state employees already under contract. Union members rejected, essentially, the same agreement they are now preparing to vote on again in a series of votes in late June. The agreement provides state workers with a guarantee of no layoffs for four years in exchange for a wage freeze for the first two years of the deal and a restructuring of health care and pension benefits, which Malloy’s administration has estimated would be enough to plug the state’s budget deficit and cut $21.5 billion from state spending over the next 20 years.
When the unions initially rejected the agreement, Malloy announced that he would push forward with a budget balancing plan that would see 6,560 state employees laid off, leave as many as 1,000 vacant state positions unfilled, as well as further reduce most state agencies’ budgets and shutter a number of state-run facilities, in order to plug the gap.
Union leaders then voted to amend the union bylaws on July 18, to lower the threshold for passage of an agreement to a simple majority – previously, approval required at least 80 percent of all union employees and 14 or more of the state’s 15 unions – and have been actively working to get the word out on the far-reaching impact of Malloy’s budget balancing plan since.
The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents the bulk of the state’s unionized employees, has organized a series of press conferences throughout Connecticut during the past month at many of the state run facilities that would be impacted by Malloy’s budget balancing plan that include state employees slated to lose their jobs.
Reductions at the Southbury Training School, a state run facility that cares for about 440 individuals with mental retardation, would not just strain the already overtaxed Connecticut Department of Developmental Services, according to union officials, but would also negatively impact Southbury’s economic future, which is largely dependent on the Southbury Training School and the more than 1,333 employees who work there.
Some of the nation’s oldest ferry services, the historic Chester-Hadlyme and Rocky Hill-Glastonbury, would be discontinued under Malloy’s budget balancing plan.
Childcare and preschool centers at some of the state’s largest community colleges, including Manchester, Middlesex and Tunxis community colleges, would get the ax, making it more difficult for young mothers to return to school and obtain a degree.
While the York Correctional Institute’s Second Chance Animal Shelter, which provides shelter and rehabilitation for abused farm animals with the assistance of some of the facility’s inmates, would be closed under Malloy’s plan, which would pass the burden of care for such large farm animals onto municipalities, most of which are ill equipped to handle the duties and would likely end up euthanizing the animals.
The number of affected facilities and impacted individuals under Malloy’s budget balancing proposal would “create a Connecticut that none of us recognizes,” according to SEBAC Spokesman Matt O’Connor, which he said union leaders have been attempting to highlight throughout the past month.
“It’s really to show our state employees how we’re all in this together,” O’Connor said. “You may be a scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, but your vote will affect an animal control officer at the York shelter…whose vote could affect the Department of Social Services fraud investigation division in Stamford, which is also facing closure under the governor’s plan.”
At a rally outside the newly created Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in Hartford on Friday, union leaders and employees who would be impacted by Malloy’s budget balancing plan spoke about how proposed reductions to the Inland Water Resources Permitting division and the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality could further slow the state’s permitting and oversight process for everything from the construction of new charter schools to commercial developments.
“We do the permitting for municipalities, state agencies, and private companies,” said Krystyna Krudysz, a civil engineer and one of four employees in the six-person Inland Water Resources Permitting division slated to lose their position under Malloy’s balancing plan. “If we don’t sign the project, they don’t build anything, and they don’t create the jobs.”
Come Thursday, all of Connecticut should have a better idea of how the state will fill its $1.6 billion budget gap – but the impact of the layoffs and facility closings, if that’s the road state employees choose to go down, could be felt for some time afterwards.
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