(Updated 3:23 p.m.) Republican legislative leaders were surprised to learn that there are 911 union stewards working on behalf of the more than 45,000 unionized state employees. What they found even more surprising was that the state, not the unions, pays for the time union stewards spend dealing with union concerns in the workplace.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said he has grave concerns about the systems in state government, but he refused to call Monday’s press conference to release Office of Fiscal Analysis data on union stewards an assault on unions.

He said he called Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office this morning to make sure he knew about this, since the governor is the only one at the moment that can negotiate changes to union contracts.

Cafero admitted that at the moment there’s very little the legislature can do to change the system currently in place. He said Malloy has proposed changing the statutes to force the legislature to vote on collective bargaining agreements, something the Republican minority supports. But it’s unclear if the Democrat-controlled legislature will take Malloy up on that proposal.

It’s also unclear from the Office of Fiscal Analysis data how much time these union stewards spend doing their state jobs and how much time is spent doing union business. It’s also unclear where Connecticut ranks in terms of other states on the number of union stewards per employee. All 911 union stewards make salaries and benefits totaling about $93 million. The time they spend conducting union business is included in that total.

Lori Pelletier, Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said she finds it striking that Republicans chose to hold the press conference on this issue today, when 43 years ago today Martin Luther King was assassinated while standing with striking sanitation workers in Memphis. She said despite comments to the contrary she sees the press conference as an attack on public employee unions by Republican legislative leadership.

“They’ve had a Republican governor. They had a direct red line to the governor’s office for 20 years. Now, this is what their issue is?” Pelletier said.

She said when she worked at Pratt & Whitney as a shop steward management wanted them out there “putting out fires.” She said it was viewed at as a business investment and the company paid for it, just like the state does.

“The primary job of a shop steward is to put out fires and to help government work better,” Pelletier said. 

She said union stewards generally spend a minimal amount of time conducting union business. She said she’d be surprised if it was more than a half-hour per week.

But Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said his Appropriations subcommittee heard testimony that at least one union steward was spending just three days per month in their regular state job, while the rest of the time was spent doing union business.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said at this point they have antidotal evidence about how many hours these stewards work and he hopes the person working three days a month is an “extreme case.”

“We welcome all cost-savings ideas, but they must be real,” Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said. “The Republicans admit they have no idea how many dollars their proposal would save, if any. We hope that their no-tax increase budget, which they still haven’t produced, isn’t stuffed with similar half-baked ideas.”

Republican lawmakers have privately expressed concern over the past few days that the legislature’s Democratic majority and Malloy’s budget director are meeting behind closed doors and discussing the budget without them at the table. Cafero said he confronted Malloy and was told that’s absolutely not what is happening.

“If the macaroni is cooked, I want to know,” Cafero said.

The Malloy administration has apparently been making itself available to the chairs of the Appropriations Committee to answer any questions they have as they prepare their budget.