Republicans say legislature can get better savings without union agreement

Republicans say legislature can get better savings without union agreement

Record-Journal


HARTFORD — Senate Republicans made a pitch this week to reject a proposed agreement with state employee unions as currently drafted by saying the legislature could achieve the same level of savings without extending the current benefits agreement.

“We control our own destiny,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter what this agreement does — it’s an irrelevancy.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition are still working on finalizing the agreement, but a framework of a deal that would save more than $1.5 billion over the next two years has emerged.

Republicans in the House and Senate have issued separate budget proposals that say the state needs more than the $1.5 billion Malloy has pitched since February to help close a $5 billion deficit over the upcoming biennium.

The draft agreement is still undergoing an actuarial analysis, but Fasano said elements of the deal that require SEBAC approval would only account for $185.9 million in savings over the upcoming biennium.

He said that doesn’t warrant extending the benefits package by five years until 2027, one of the things SEBAC wants in return, because the legislature could find $2.2 billion in savings via changes that can be made in statute.

The largest savings would come from a combined $779 million in wage concessions, $46 million more than the existing framework.

While unions negotiate with the governor’s office for wages and work conditions, the legislature does have the right to vote.

The rest of the savings would come from policy changes, including to collective bargaining rights currently given to unions. Those changes include suspending or possibly eliminating arbitration for wages, replacing overtime with compensatory time and increasing all contributions for pension and healthcare benefits.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the proposal is similar to the one House Republicans included with their budget proposal two weeks ago, including the goal of changing collective bargaining rules.

“You’ve heard me say we should change our laws so that we could statutorily open up” the process, she said.

Republicans presented dozens of bills seeking to change components of the state’s collective bargaining process — nearly 100 went to a public hearing in April — and Fasano said the proposal presented Wednesday further indicates what Republicans would like to accomplish should they gain control of the legislature.

“I think these are the things that we would be talking about,” he said.

“I don’t think that they’re harsh, by any means, I think they’re getting closer to what the reality is of the private sector.”

Malloy was critical of the proposal and accused Republicans of moving the ball after he and his budget office “negotiated in good faith.”

He also said he told legislators weeks ago that the $1.5 billion in labor savings that he has pitched since February was the best case scenario.

“I’m doing my best Charlie Brown,” he said.

Malloy said switching overtime pay to compensatory time, which allows employees to bank additional work time for vacation down the road, would deter people from working overtime and require additional hiring.

Malloy vowed to block any legislation aimed at curbing collective bargaining or alternating benefits.

“If the unions were to turn this down, then I would understand a legislative approach,” he said.

“If the legislature turns this down, you’re not going to have me helping you legislatively addressing it — which means I would veto it.”

Union leaders issued a joint statement also criticizing the proposal.

“State unions have arrived at a tentative framework agreement to help close the budget deficit and protect the vital services our members provide to the public,” said Sal Luciano, president of AFSCME Council 4.

Jan Hochadel, the president of the American Teachers Federation of Connecticut, said that the proposal “wasn’t a real plan for addressing the state’s ongoing economic challenges” and warned that voters “will no doubt recognize this shameful stunt for what it is.”

Connecticut AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier, meanwhile, said the push for more labor savings means state employees are bearing a disproportionate share of the state’s fiscal woes.

“State employees have already stepped up and are responsible for savings that will reduce the deficit by a third despite representing only about one percent of the population in Connecticut. Working people did not create our budget problems,” she said.

“So why are the Republicans insisting that the state’s nurses, teachers, firefighters, police, and other public service workers continue to disproportionately resolve the problem?”

msavino@record-journal.com 203-317-2266 Twitter: @reporter_savino


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