Friday, August 19, 2011
By Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor
email@example.com / Twitter: @nhrmoleary
HARTFORD — Six weeks into the fiscal year and after a blizzard of layoff notices were sent out, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy finally got the union concession deal he needed to balance the $40.1 billion biennial budget already in place.
The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents more than 45,000 state workers, announced Thursday that the $1.6 billion concession pension and health care package had been ratified by 73 percent of the membership, while the wage terms got 76 percent onboard.
All 14 unions that had finished voting were in favor of the package, with the last SEBAC member, state police, set to count ballots Friday. Only one out of 34 bargaining units — the 400-member Correction Department supervisors — voted against the concessions, thereby losing protection against layoffs for the next four years.
Jubilant workers gathered at a union hall to hear the results and breathe a sigh of relief that most of the 3,077 layoffs across all agencies will be rescinded, courthouses will not be closed and social services will not be drastically cut.
Malloy hinted broadly, however, that some of the Department of Motor Vehicles office closings may still go forward.
“A disaster has been averted. We are on solid ground to regroup and move forward,” said Ron McLellan, president of the Connecticut Employees Union Independent, SEIU Local 511, which represents some 4,500 service and maintenance workers.
Malloy said the agreement will be recorded with the General Assembly Monday and, “as speedy as we can,” the state will rescind the layoff notices. “We are going to move mountains to get it done very rapidly,” he said.
By next week, 1,731 layoffs were scheduled to go into effect.
Malloy thanked the workers for overwhelmingly approving the package in a do-over vote after it failed to reach the mandated threshold in June, when more complicated, tougher union rules were in place, even though 57 percent of the workers were in favor the first time around.
A bylaw change last month tied ratification to a majority vote with only eight of the 15 unions needed for passage.
Union members Thursday emphasized the need to remove excessive numbers of managers and give frontline workers a greater voice, something Malloy later agreed with in his own press conference.
“Connecticut’s managment has too many layers. It needs to be flattened out, and I assure you, over time, that process will continue,” Malloy said.
The workers were asked if the initial failure was the fault of the union leadership.
“I think we had more time to have some of the individual conversations that explained a very complex agreement. … We found out a lot of folks had misconceptions,” McLellan said.
Jordyn O’Donovan, a social service fraud investigator, said there was a split in some unions between older and younger workers.
“They have stepped up to the plate. They have made real sacrifice and when, not if, we turn this economy around, they can rightfully say, that with this agreement, they became part of the solution,” Malloy said.
The more than 2-to-1 vote in favor Thursday satisfied the tougher standard that required that “yes” votes represent 80 percent of the membership. The tallies so far had 25,713 in favor to 9,291 against.
Malloy called the pact “historic.”
“It represents the most fundamental restructuring of the relationship between state government and state workers that has ever occurred in the state of Connecticut. It saves taxpayers $21.5 billion over the next 20 years, which is $6,100 for every man, woman and child … and it takes a relationship that is unsustainable and makes it sustainable,” he said.
Malloy was talking about the trajectory of pension and health care costs, including the underfunding of retiree health care benefits that the deal attempts to correct.
Malloy, in answer to critics who predicted he could not reach savings through negotiations, said, “They were wrong.”
He said he was right not to renegotiate the deal after it failed the first time and he rebuffed opponents who said he was “naive to think that we could implement real change.”
“Obviously, they were wrong, on that point they were very, very wrong,” Malloy said.
Confusion over the health care component tanked the pact in June, an element that was clarified before a second vote proceeded over the last three weeks. Specifically, the workers were told they would not be part of SustiNet, a proposed public health option that is still under study.
The workers credited the clarifications with the changed vote, as well as the layoffs and the threat that lawmakers would vote to take longevity off the table as a bargaining item and eliminate overtime from pension calculations, if the deal failed.
Malloy Thursday reiterated his support for collective bargaining and arbitration and said the proposals on longevity and pension calculations were no longer needed, as greater savings were realized in the concessions deal.
“That legislation would have been pennies on the dollar, compared to what we have accomplished in this agreement,” Malloy said.
The state now begins the task of making sure it finds the $1.6 billion in savings, which the administration has termed “ambitious” in the near term, and critics, particularly House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, have characterized as unattainable.
The savings depend on workers opting for a new health care plan aimed at preventive care that saves $240 million in two years. There are also additional contributions to the retiree health trust fund, pension adjustments and a two-year wage freeze, as well as $90 million in technology initiatives and $180 million in efficiencies suggested by workers.
In exchange, the bargaining units that bought into the wage component will get 3 percent raises over the next five years and four years of job security.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis has said it does not have the documentation to vouch for more than half of $1.6 billion in savings, but the administration says it is doable now that a labor-management mechanism will be established to institute efficiencies.
Malloy on Thursday, asked in a press conference to produce the documentation, said, “My administration will be held to those savings. We will spell out over time exactly how we are reaching those savings. … We will share data as that data is developed.”
Malloy balanced his budget with $2.6 billion in tax increases over two years, in addition to $760 million in cuts and the union concessions.
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