The legislature’s Democratic majority and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition remain wary of Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s offer of another early retirement incentive to close the 2011 budget deficit.
Following a closed-door meeting with Rell Friday, Sen. President Donald Williams said he doesn’t think an early retirement plan can be offered without an agreement to reopen the state employees contract.
Rell’s Budget Director Robert Genuario disagrees. While waiting to be vetted for a judgeship Friday, Genuario said he rather negotiate a deal with union leadership, but believes the legislature has the authority to adopt a plan without a negotiated agreement.
“The better approach would be to negotiate with SEBAC,” Genuario said.
And it looks like plans to do just that are moving forward next week when the coalition of union leadership meets with the governor’s administration. Genuario said the administration is not planning to present the union with further concessions, it just wants to talk about an early retirement plan.
Last year the union’s agreed to a package of close to $750 million in concessions, which included salary cuts, reductions in health and pension benefits, and a specific number of furlough days. In exchange the unions receives a two-year no-layoff provision which expires at the end of 2011.
House Speaker Chris Donovan said he would encourage the governor and the unions to get together and talk about the possibilities. “I understand that would be the preferable way to do it and I don’t know if legally it can happen without their agreement.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said it’s his opinion the early retirement package can be offered without the consent of the unions because in his opinion “it’s not a concession.”
“It is not a diminution in their benefits, it is an extra offer that is voluntary to take,” Cafero said.
Matt O’Connor, spokesman for CSEA/SEIU Local 2001, said in a phone interview Friday that the unions take issue with the belief the legislature could impose an early retirement.
“We have a lot of concerns about an early retirement,” O’Connor said. “A well-thought out plan needs to take into consideration the impact it will have on state services.”
The 2009 early retirement program saw close to 4,000 workers leave state service. A fair number of those positions were refilled, but Rell’s recent proposal would call for another 3,000 early retirements and only about half of those would be refilled, O’Connor said.
The relationship between the unions and Rell has been strained by her administration’s attempt in March to obtain further concessions, as the budget gap continued to grow. The union’s fired back a strongly worded letter calling the attempt for more concessions “cynical scapegoating which masquerades as leadership.”
Backing off from that stance Friday, the unions have agreed to meet with the Rell administration next Wednesday. At the meeting the unions will again ask the administration to take a look at some of the ideas frontline state employees have for improving efficiencies and saving money.
In 2008 Rell solicited the help of state workers in coming up with ideas to save money, however, O’Connor said those efforts never went anywhere.
“Nothing happened beyond that initial press conference,” O’Connor said. He said state employees submitted ideas and received a form letter in response.
Since then the union’s proposals continue to be ignored by the administration, O’Connor said.
Genuario said the administration has been open to ideas, other than concessions. At Wednesday’s meeting the only thing the administration plans on putting forward is the early retirement plan and would welcome any cost cutting measures the union presents, he said.