Wednesday, August 31, 2011 3:11 AM EDT
BY PAUL HUGHES
HARTFORD — State workers on the job Thursday will be protected from layoffs for four years and guaranteed health and pension benefits for another 11 years.
A labor savings agreement that state employee unions ratified earlier this month officially takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
There are still lingering questions about how much of the assumed savings of $1.6 billion over the next two years and $21.5 million over the next 20 years will be actually achieved.
The legislature’s budget office remains unable to confirm some of the most significant savings estimates. The Office of Fiscal Analysis is still preparing a promised assessment for lawmakers.
Workers who were laid off this summer are being told to report to work Thursday, according to union and administration spokesmen. Also, workers who had their layoffs suspended are being told they are in the clear now.
Union leaders are concerned that some probationary workers and per diem employees may not be recalled. An administration spokesman said this is possible; each agency will make its own decisions regarding these workers.
Approximately 400 workers were laid off after the 15 employee unions failed to ratify an earlier labor savings agreement that offered the same basic terms in late June.
Union leaders wanted the laid-off workers returned to work immediately after the unions ratified the second, clarified agreement.
The Malloy administration insisted on waiting until an Aug. 31 deadline for the legislature to vote on the agreement has passed. No vote has been scheduled. Democratic leaders have previously stated that they intended to allow the pact to take effect automatically.
Each union or union local had to reopen its contract to accept a two-year wage freeze in order to receive a guarantee of four years of job security. New hires are not protected from layoffs.
Only the state police union and a union local representing supervisors in the Department of Correction rejected the wage freeze. As a result, 56 rookie state troopers and 21 correction lieutenants and captains have been laid off.
The agreement extends the revised 20-year agreement on health and pension benefits beyond its original 2017 expiration date to 2022.
Under union rules, eight unions had to ratify the revisions and the five-year extension, and they collectively had to represent 50 percent of union members based on a weighted vote. All 15 unions approved the health and pension changes.
The pension changes are estimated to save $237 million this fiscal year and $248.2 million the following year. Health plan revisions are projected to save nearly $188 million this year and $203.4 million next year.
The wage freeze is expected to save $138.8 million and $309.5 million.
The agreement guarantees workers pay raises of 3 percent a year for three years after the wage freeze ends. However, the actual increases will be close to 6 percent over three years.
This is because the agreement requires all employees to contribute 3 percent of their wages to the Retiree Health Care Trust Fund, not just new hires.
The deal also establishes a fourth retirement plan for new workers. It increases the age of retirement and requires workers to work longer. Additionally, pensions are calculated based on the average of an employee’s final five years.
The agreement also raises the retirement age and years of service for current employees effective July 2022. However, existing workers can contribute additional sums to retire under the terms of today’s retirement plans.
Previously, employees who retired early had their benefits reduced 3 percent for each year a worker retired before they were eligible for regular retirement. The agreement doubles this so-called early retirement penalty to 6 percent.
The largest health savings come from a voluntary wellness plan, $120.5 million a year.
Participating employees must follow certain requirements, such as getting regular check-ups, recommended health screenings and dental cleanings. Workers may remain in their current health plans, but they must pay an additional premium of $100 a month and a $350 yearly deductible per person.
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