NEW BRITAIN—A meeting between the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration abruptly ended Wednesday evening when representatives of the governor’s office walked out of the meeting.
“We will not be reaching an agreement,” Rell’s Budget Director Robert Genuario said as he exited the meeting. “They made it clear they are not interested.”
Union representatives said they never said “No” to an early retirement agreement. They simply asked the administration for numbers regarding the pension liability for the 2009 retirees and estimates on how this early retirement package would impact the state’s workforce.
“It suggests they never had an any intent in reaching an agreement with us,” Daniel Livingston, the union’s chief negotiator, said.
“The Governor is extremely disappointed that SEBAC – the coalition of state employee unions –tonight summarily rejected any consideration of an early retirement plan to save $65 million in state budget costs,” Rell’s office said in a statement Wednesday evening. “She is also disappointed that SEBAC would not allow the administration to put alternative cost-saving measures on the table. Governor Rell believes it is a time for renewed respect and cooperation, not intractability and hyperbole..”
Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, said Rell herself signed an executive order in February which required the state to look at post-retirement and pension liability.
“We asked if they had those impact figures,” Luciano said. “They didn’t.”
“They can’t even give us the impact from the retirement incentive last year,” Patrice Peterson, CSEA secretary treasurer, said.
“We didn’t say ‘No’,” Luciano said. “We asked, then pressed them for the information.”
“If they produce the information we asked for we can have a dialogue,” Matt O’Connor, spokesman for CSEA/SEIU Local 2001, said.
Before the meeting disintegrated, union leaders offered the administration a plan to keep state employees on the job. The offer to keep employees on the job would save the state an estimated $100 million, Livingston said. He said encouraging people to stay longer will save the state pension costs in the long run.
“We told them that and they just stormed out,” Livingston said. He said they never even offered an explanation as to why they wouldn’t have their actuary look over the plan.
The early retirement incentive offered by Rell’s administration was expected to save an estimated $65 million and would have been offered to 8,000 employees, 52 years old or more with 10 years of state service.
There’s been some disagreement about whether it’s legal to bring an early retirement to the legislature or if it’s something that has to be negotiated as part of the SEBAC agreement. Bringing it to the legislature is an option, Genuario said. But he wouldn’t say if that’s what the administration intended to do. He said he will go back and look at other ways to save money.
Steve Rief, state police union president, said last year’s retirement plan devastated the ranks of the state police force. He said 125 troopers have retired and nobody has been hired to replace them. A new class of 70 is expected to start on May 7.
“Right now we’re doing more with less,” Rief said. “What’s hanging in the balance is public safety.”
Luciano said an early retirement may save the state $65 million today, but it will cost them $1.2 billion down the road.