I am constantly amazed by what happens in this state sometimes, and this week is no exception. The idea of tolls to complete Route 11 is bad enough, but apparently state employees may be getting ready to reject the deal negotiated between SEBAC and the Malloy administration.
Union employees are in a rotten mood, it seems, and opposition to the deal has been mounting over the past few weeks since details were announced. Some of the concerns are perfectly legitimate gripes. The deal’s a compromise, after all, and no one is really thrilled with all of it. Some of the concerns are misinformation and rumor, though, and some of them are complaints about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s actions and tone. All of this may add up to a “no” vote on the concessions package.
I’m boggled by this, because Gov. Malloy has been making it very clear that the alternative to ratifying the agreement would be a draconian “Plan B” budget which would result in massive layoffs and decimated services. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of wiggle room, here: it’s either the concessions package, which isn’t great but allows everyone to keep their jobs, or the doomsday budget that risks destroying the social safety net and lays off thousands.
Are those invested in voting “no” really convinced that if they do reject the deal, a better one will be forthcoming? A lot of the chatter I’ve seen against the deal online has been about how the deal could have been better, and how individual pieces may or may not work out as expected. There are a lot of valid points buried in there about how employees and the administration should work together, and how government should work. However, I’m not convinced those points are relevant right now. There seems to be no appetite in the General Assembly, union leadership, or the Malloy administration for crafting another deal.
Do they believe the governor isn’t serious about the promised layoffs and service cuts? Malloy has been busy laying the groundwork for exactly this for months. Is there any reason beyond a stubborn feeling of “No, he won’t really do that, will he?” to suggest he won’t follow through? The governor has said that the alternate budget is painful and obviously not his preference, but he actually has it ready to go. If it’s just a negotiating tactic, it’s a very involved one.
Lastly, do state employees believe the public would be sympathetic to their plight if they decide to reject the concessions deal? Most people already believe, fairly or unfairly, that unions and union employees are greedy. If the concessions package is rejected because it isn’t good enough, that belief will be confirmed. Everyone will blame the unions for shooting themselves in the foot, and correctly so. Huge layoffs and draconian cost-cutting are the hip thing this year, anyway. If you don’t believe that, take a look at Andrew Cuomo’s approval ratings.
The thing is, I get why the workers are resistant. Labor has had a rough 30 years and times aren’t getting any easier. There’s a tendency for politicians and the public to point the finger at public sector unions when they need money but don’t want to raise taxes, and Connecticut’s unions already went through a painful concession ordeal in 2009. Unions also feel especially bullied in the wake of strong anti-union legislation passed or pending in Wisconsin and other states. But Dannel Malloy is not Scott Walker, hardball is not the same as bullying, and rejecting the deal in this case would likely break the power of the union for good. What good is a union that can’t keep jobs and has no support in the legislature, the executive branch, or the public? SEBAC would lose all credibility, individual unions would be badly fractured (and a lot smaller), and the governor would come out of this looking like the good guy anyway. There are times to hold the line. This is not one of them.
In the end, this fight is about a lot more than just health care or pensions or organization. It’s about keeping people employed, and the state running. The deal isn’t great, but the alternative is worse. Union workers should consider the consequences carefully before voting “no.”
Susan Bigelow is the former owner of Connecticut Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.