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Union deal could be officially dead later this morning

Brian Lockhart, dariennewsonline
Published 10:46 am, Friday, June 24, 2011
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Acknowledging that state workers will likely vote down a $1.6 billion concessions package, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Thursday prepared to make good on threats to lay off as many as 7,500 over the next two years and announced plans for a possible special Legislative session.

"I think we probably know what the results (will be)," Malloy told reporters in Hartford, referring to the likelihood that by Friday morning two unions will have rejected the givebacks, sinking the deal for the entirety of the 15-union State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition.

"Which means that we'll proceed with what we have to do, which is exactly what I told everyone we would do all along," the governor said. A few hours later he called for the General Assembly, which wrapped up the 2011 session June 8, to reconvene next Thursday to act on a plan to balance the two-year budget passed in May without givebacks.

Observers said job cuts are the only possible move for the new Democratic governor, who for weeks has warned SEBAC's 45,000 members to share in the sacrifice needed to close a $3 billion-plus deficit or face the consequences.

"He can try to say ... `I didn't really mean it,' but as soon as he does that he becomes very vulnerable," ex-House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, said. "He needs to be a governor, a leader, and say, `Listen, I was not kidding'."

But proceeding with layoffs does not mean the administration and union officials will not be working behind-the-scenes to salvage the concessions package. A re-do vote is possible, allowing labor leaders time to address what they allege has been a misinformation campaign directed by outside conservative groups at rank-and-file workers.

The Malloy administration Wednesday ruled out a renegotiation but said it was open to "clarifying" aspects of the deal.

"They're going to keep talking," said Stanley Twardy, a Republican who served as chief of staff to independent Gov. Lowell Weicker. "In some ways it's like the National Football League right now. You have the owners and players talking even while (a) lawsuit is pending. Pink slips are the lawsuit. From the time they go out to when they take effect will be the period the governor and unions will have to come up with something short of layoffs."

The fiscal year begins July 1, but Malloy said state employees on average will likely leave the payroll around Sept. 1.

But even that is not necessarily the end. In February 2003, then Republican Gov. John Rowland laid off 3,000 after labor talks fell apart, but many were later re-hired beginning that May.

Under SEBAC rules, if two of its 15 unions oppose the deal or less than 80 percent ratify it, concessions are rejected.

One union, Service Employees International Local 511, had already as of Thursday opposed givebacks. And the largest, the 15,600 member Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees , was expected to follow.

The last of Council 4's nine bargaining units to vote is composed of corrections employees who refused concessions in 2009. On Thursday the leader of one of their locals, Jon Pepe, told The Associated Press he hopes his 1,850 members vote for the deal but believes many will not.

"My members are voting, but I believe the early release of everybody's returns didn't help matters," Pepe said. "All they hear is no, no. They feel, let me vote no, too."

Council 4's final results are scheduled for release at 11 a.m. Friday.

House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, a longtime ally of labor, postponed the launch of his congressional bid to focus on salvaging the deal. Donovan said he has spoken with the governor, Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, and union leaders.

"My discussions have been trying to figure out ways to get this agreement ratified," Donovan said. "My services are there if there's anything I can do to assist them."

John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said if Malloy and the Legislature are forced to make additional budget cuts, they could target municipal aid, resulting in further layoffs.

"We also have private-sector unions effected by the budget," Olsen said. "Everybody somewhere is touched by this."

Mark Ojakian, Malloy's lead negotiator, said it was frustrating watching something he worked for falling apart.

"I was a deputy comptroller when we had to issue layoff notices to people at the comptroller's office, and it was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life. That was 16 individuals," Ojakian said. "I would like to see anything done that's possible and comports with the SEBAC bylaws to ratify this agreement. If that means re votes, absolutely."

But Jack Fowler, of Milford, publisher of the National Review, said he is glad the concessions are falling through. Fowler is chairman for the Roger Sherman Liberty Center, a conservative think tank which has sued to have the budget declared "null and void" because it was passed with a $1.6 billion hole.

"I'm glad it's going down because it gives the Legislature an opportunity to enact a budget that's much better for the economy than the piece of insanity adopted last month," Fowler said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.