HARTFORD — Organized labor continued Wednesday to throw its political support behind Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, despite his 2011 battle with state employee unions over labor concessions.
The Democrat received the endorsement of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 65,000 workers, including 20,000 active state employees and thousands of retired state employees. That’s in addition to the recent backing of the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut and the Connecticut AFL-CIO, a labor umbrella organization.
While Malloy was at odds with state employees several years ago, even issuing layoff notices in an attempt to reach a deal on wages and benefits, he contends lingering ill feelings have been smoothed over because unionized workers see what has happened to state employees elsewhere. He mentioned New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie wants to reduce the state’s contribution to public workers’ pension funds because of “a staggering budget shortfall.”
“I think people understand that we’re in much better shape,” Malloy said.
Paul Filson, manager of the SEIU Connecticut State Council, said union members know “that Governor Malloy was a tough negotiator but he was fair.”
The two Republican candidates for governor, Tom Foley and John McKinney, as well as liberal petitioning candidate Jonathan Pelto, have each reported receiving support from rank-and-file union members, despite Malloy’s recent endorsements.
Shirley Watson, a clinical social worker at the University of Connecticut Health Care, said she doesn’t foresee Malloy’s potential challengers making any major in-roads with unionized state and employees. She said many of her co-workers have come around to accepting the deal reached with Malloy. While a four-year, no-layoff provision in the agreement is set to expire next year, provisions affecting state employee pensions and health care benefits won’t expire until 2022.
“There were people who were upset at the beginning, but they’ve been able to sort of process what happened and understand it was for the greater good for the state of Connecticut,” Watson said.
Whether or not the deal is a good one for the state has become an issue in this year’s governor’s race.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who is challenging the GOP’s endorsed candidate, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, in the Aug. 12 primary, contends state employee union leaders should agree to reopen the agreement Malloy’s reached with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition.
“This week, the State Comptroller confirmed that the next governor will face a $1.2 billion deficit in 2016 and a $1.5 billion deficit in 2017,” McKinney said. “In the face of these realities, the governor and union leaders persist in defending a system that permits pension-spiking, double-dipping, and a gold-plated health care benefit packages. This is hardly the ‘shared sacrifice’ that the governor spoke of early in his administration.”
Foley recently has said it would be irresponsible of a governor to try and break the deal with the unions. But he said some wage agreements will be expiring soon, giving the next governor an opportunity to try and cut state employee costs.