(Updated 1:57 p.m.) Legislative leaders were struggling over the past few days over language that gives them the ability to accept the $1.6 billion state employee concession package prior to ratification of the agreement by 45,000 state employees.
Sen. President Donald Williams said Friday evening that they didn’t want to be seen influencing the ratification process in any way, but at the same time he was confident they could adopt language which prospectively allows them to accept the agreement without having to return for a special legislative session at the end of June.
“We don’t want to interfere,” House Speaker Chris Donovan said Saturday. “We have our legal team researching the best way to write it.”
Over the weekend, their legal team decided on language that says no later than five calendar days after the agreement is adopted, or June 30, the General Assembly “may” call itself into special session to approve the agreement. But if it doesn’t call itself into session then the agreement will be considered approved.
The language essentially speeds up the approval process if the General Assembly chooses not to act on the contract. That’s worrisome to Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen.
Roraback said the legislature should not be “presupposing” any outcome of the ratification process.
“I don’t think we should be acting on any concession language until the unions ratify the agreement,” Roraback said Monday. “I think it puts the state in an untenable position.”
He said he would prefer to come back after June 24 to approve an agreement or deal with the necessary spending cuts in lieu of an agreement.
Matt O’Connor, a SEBAC spokesman, said Monday that “we didn’t ask the legislature to do this.”
O’Connor said neither the legislature or the administration asked the unions if this would be helpful or harmful to the ratification process.
“Our coalition of unions believes the agreement should be approved by the legislature,” O’Connor said. However, the unions aren’t taking a position on it at the moment. He said the current procedure where a labor agreement is accepted after 30 days of ratification without action by the legislature is sufficient.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Budget Director Ben Barnes warned Saturday that union members who will be finished voting by June 24 were cutting the vote a little close to the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.
“We’re cutting it a little close,“ Barnes said both of the union vote and of the drafting of the legislation. But “I’m confident the legal issues will be resolved before Monday,” he said.
Eighty percent of the voting members and 14 of the 15 unions must approved the agreement in order for it to be considered ratified. If they fail to ratify the agreement Malloy has threatened large scale layoffs of more than 4,700 employees.
The bill, which was uploaded online Monday, also includes language to modify the longevity pay and salaries of non-union state employees in both the Judicial and Legislative branches of government.
By June 30 Barnes must submit a plan to the Appropriations Committee detailing how the terms of the SEBAC contract will apply to nonunion classified and unclassified officers and employees. The same is being asked of the chief court administrator.
Under the SEBAC agreement, union members were asked to give up one of their two longevity payments for the year. Those payments were also frozen at their current levels.
The bill will be debated in the House Monday afternoon.