The Senate Democrats looked poised to approve changes to the collective bargaining process Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed Wednesday, but House Democrats seemed to be leaning against taking up any changes to state employee contracts.
“I believe that there is absolutely agreement that something needs to be done today,” Malloy said Thursday morning. “There may still be some discussion about exactly what that entails, but I am convinced everybody understands something must be done today.”
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said they still need to caucus the package, but there seems to be agreement on making “long term systemic changes” and taking decisive action.
While House Democrats seem to be in agreement on the rescission authority, which they will now have some say in, the changes to collective bargaining still have some members crying foul.
House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, wasn’t able to speak about the negotiations going on with the governor’s office, but House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he was told the collective bargaining changes were out in the House.
“The collective bargaining units aren’t here anymore. They’re not sweating this,” Cafero said. “What ever we’re doing today is for show.”
The governor dismissed Cafero’s claim that the proposal was just for show.
“Larry says some really silly things sometimes and I think more often than not they’re probably born of his frustration, whatever the cause of that is,” he said after an unrelated event in Hartford.
Rep. Linda Schofield, D-Simsbury, said she thinks “it’s a mistake” not to include the changes to collective bargaining in the legislation. But her colleagues who support the unions declined to comment on the matter as their leadership continues to meet behind closed doors.
In the Senate, even the staunchest union supporters seem to be changing their tune.
Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, was approached by several union members on her trip from the legislative office building to the Senate caucus room.
Jon Pepe, president of the Connecticut State Prison Employee’s Union AFSCME Local 391, told her he had voted for the agreement.
“I’m glad that some of you had enough sense to vote for this proposal,” she said after shaking his hand.
Pepe thanked her for her previous work on behalf of unions. After, he said he’s concerned about what lawmakers may choose to do during the special session.
“I’m concerned that the agreement was voted down. I can understand that the political leaders are upset – they’re upset and now they have a job to do. I just hope they don’t go from zero to 60 because there are lots of things in between.”
Pepe said he hopes the legislature won’t decide to implement some draconian and destructive measures.
Prague was critical of the unions for not passing the $1.6 billion concession package, which put the legislature in this position.
“I’m very upset with those units that voted against the proposal,” Prague said.
“So they had a two-year wage freeze, big deal. Then the next three years they would have gotten three percent in each of those years. And a four year guarantee no layoffs, these guys were crazy to vote against that package,” said Prague. “I’m so angry at them that, you know, I’d like to turn them over my knee and give them a whack.”
Union officials are still hoping for patience and caution.
Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, one of the unions that rejected the agreement, said if the state wants to make changes to the it’s relationship with unions, it should be done through the negotiation system already in place.
He pointed out that 57 percent of union members actually supported the agreement.
“Why punish all union members?” he asked.
Nonetheless, he said the legislative pushback against the unions was “not something that comes totally as a surprise.”
“We understand that there is a hole in the budget but I’m not sure [the proposed legislation] helps especially at this fragile time,” he said.
On Monday union leaders tabled the final vote on the concession package which did not meet the high bar for ratification. Malloy’s proposed legislation included a two month window for unions to find a way to ratify the agreement. But Luciano said talk of a revote was insulting to members who knowingly voted against the agreement.
He said he would prefer that the administration and SEBAC sit back down at the table and negotiate another agreement.
“I know we couldn’t get a better deal but maybe there could be slight differences that our members could accept,” he said.
Jim LoMonaco, President of AFSCME Local 2836 representing Connecticut State University administrative faculty, said he came to support a continuation on dialogue between lawmakers and unions.
AFSCME Local 2836 was among the other union locals at CSU to vote in favor of the concessions package by a large margin, LoMonaco said.
Despite the support of his local, AFSCME as a whole voted down the concessions package, and though his members were willing to make the sacrifices others were not he still believes dissolution of a collective bargaining agreement would not be beneficial.
“One of the things we did is we passed the agreement by a huge margin because what we believe the governor is saying, and saying correctly, is we need to get hold of long term spending,” said LoMonaco.
Cafero observed that all the union people with their signs and green AFSCME tee-shirts were gone late Thursday afternoon.
Nicholas Rondinone contributed to this report.