(Updated 9:47 p.m.) He wasn’t on the original list of guest speakers, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was the first to speak Wednesday at a union rally outside the State Capitol.
It may seem like an odd place for him to be these days, since he asked more than 45,000 state employees for $2 billion in concessions and savings over the next two years, as part of his budget proposal. But Malloy seemed to strike all the right notes.
“There is no reason for a full assault on the right to organize, the right to negotiate, the right to bargain,” Malloy said as the crowd drowned him out with cheers. “We may not always agree, you and I…but we can sit down around a table, negotiate agreements.”
AFL-CIO President John Olsen said he spoke with Malloy this morning and they both reached the conclusion that he should come speak to crowd, which Capitol Police estimated at 275. Organizers countered the crowd was closer to 500.
“I think we both came to the conclusion at the same time,” Olsen said. “Maybe he was inspired by Gov. Chris Christie’s comments that he hasn’t read the governor’s owners manual.”
The rally was a show of solidarity for the union workers in Wisconsin where Gov. Scott Walker wants to change portions of their collective bargaining agreements to save money on health care costs. Malloy seemed to want to show the unions that he’s different than Walker and Christie.
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said Malloy wanted to speak at the rally because of his deeply held belief in collective bargaining. He said Malloy also wants to be out in front talking to people, which is why he’s holding 17 Town Halls on his budget proposal.
“That he and labor don’t agree on everything, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t talk to them,” Occhiogrosso said.
In fact, Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, said the two sides have a meeting scheduled next week. He wouldn’t reveal the time and location because he said he didn’t want negotiations to take place in the media.
Luciano said the governor called the meeting so they plan to go and listen. State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, a group of 13 unions that negotiate on behalf of all unionized state employees, will share some of the concerns about the math in Malloy’s budget, he said.
The unions believe Malloy should be asking more of the state’s wealthiest residents and businesses.
Betsy Eakins, a state employee with SEIU 1199, said she missed Malloy’s remarks at the beginning of the rally, but would like to know why businesses in the state are not paying their fair share and why the state employees are being asked to sacrifice so much.
“We don’t mind paying our fair share, but why isn’t business paying theirs?” Eakins said.
Patricia Hinds, another state employee with SEIU 1199, said “we are also taxpayers, so the pain should be shared across the board.”
Eakins and Hinds as state employees, were in the minority Wednesday. Many of the union workers in the crowd came from private or municipal unions to the noon-time rally.
Neither wanted to comment specifically on what Malloy’s presence at the rally meant, but they were glad to see he wasn’t taking a tone similar to that of Walker in Wisconsin or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who tussled with Malloy earlier in the day on “The Morning Joe.”
“I wanna get people moving from New Jersey to Connecticut so I think I recommended a rate that is an appropriate rate,“ Malloy said. The highest proposed income tax rate in Malloy’s budget is 6.7 percent on the state’s wealthiest residents. New Jersey’s highest income tax rate is currently 8.97 percent on its wealthiest residents.
Malloy said for these other governor’s to be blaming the unions for their current fiscal woes is ridiculous. He said if you’re going to blame the unions then you would also have to blame the legislatures and previous governors.
“We do not live in a state that is desirous of having that kind of conflict needlessly,“ Malloy said.
“I don’t believe we have to vilify people to make progress,” Malloy said.
But Malloy hasn’t been shy either about saying that if he doesn’t get the necessary concessions he will have to lay people off or severely cut social services.