Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s first budget speech wasn’t “light and fluffy” and it was not abstract. There were long stretches of silence as he detailed his desire to achieve $2 billion in savings and concessions from the state employee labor unions.
It’s a number some have opined is unachievable, but Malloy maintained that their current “wage, health care, and pension benefit levels are simply not sustainable.“
Malloy used his budget address to make some suggestions about how the two sides may work at achieving those savings through the collective bargaining contract, which he formally asked them to open during his speech.
“Some of these savings can be achieved by implementing common sense proposals, such as moving state employees to a health benefits package like the one that covers federal employees,” Malloy said. “That change alone could save the state over 100 million dollars over two years.”
A wage freeze could save close to $300 million over two years, three furlough days per year over the next two years could save $80 million, adjusting the retirement age could save $300 million, and a handful of other concessions could easily help them find $2 billion, Malloy suggested. The alleged concessions add up to about $680 million over two years, which is using Malloy’s own numbers is far shy of his own $2 billion target.
“The alternative to the two billion dollar figure would require us to completely shred the safety net and lay off thousands of state workers,” Malloy said. “Which is to say there’s no alternative. We have to get it done. And I’m confident we will get it done.”
Union leaders, like Leo Canty, vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Malloy’s comments were not unexpected.
“Whether we open up contracts and whether that goes will all be part of the process we’ll get into,” he said. “We gave him a few ideas about savings, he gave us a few ideas about savings and now we’ve got to find some way to get together and have a discussion about them.”
He wished the governor would have given more specifics about the options of layoffs, but he knows it’s a touchy subject and he thinks there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
Malloy’s budget also seeks to give the legislature the authority to approve or reject collective bargaining agreements. Currently those agreements can go into effect without a vote of the General Assembly, which is what happened with several contracts most notably the Correction Officers and Correction Supervisor’s contracts. No action was taken on either of those contracts in 2009, so when the nine other bargaining groups were taking furlough days and benefit cuts, the two Correction Department unions were seeing their wages increase.
John Olsen, president of AFL-CIO, said he doesn’t think it’s constructive to bargain through the media so he refrained from speaking directly about Malloy’s offer to open up the collective bargaining contract.
“I’m going to fight for everything I had in the past,” Olsen said. “With an eye toward the future,” and creation of new industries, technologies, and jobs. He said he doesn’t blame workers in the private or public sector for the current global economic crisis.
“We are the most productive, hardworking, and caring workers, whether they be public or private workers,” Olsen said.
As for the rhetoric regarding more than 9 percent private sector unemployment verses 0 percent public sector unemployment, “If you lost your legs should mine be cut off?”