(Updated at 2:03 p.m.)The 48 hours Gov. Dannel P. Malloy estimated as the time labor negotiators would need in order to clarify the previously failed concession package has come and gone, but negotiators will be back at the table again today after a late night Thursday.
Leaders of the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition voted earlier this week to change their bylaws to make it easier to ratify a labor-savings agreement, but seemed to be no closer to a deal Thursday than they were earlier in the week.
Malloy has said he will only clarify the first tentative agreement and doesn’t wish to re-negotiate any part of the package, which froze wages for two years, provided four years of job security, and made several changes to health and pension benefits.
Ben Barnes, the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, and his deputy in charge of the negotiations, Mark Ojakian, returned to the Capitol Thursday afternoon with nothing new to report from those discussions. Ojakian looked at his phone and confirmed the 48 hours had come and gone, but said they were still in discussions.
Asked if there was any solution hashed out to deal with the 2.5 percent salary increases that go out the door July 29 to more than 40,000 state employees, the two said there was nothing they could say at the moment. But promised they were still working on it and were still talking with union leaders.
The discussions went late into the night Thursday, according to sources.
The union dispelled rumors a deal had been struck on its website last night as it sought to reassure its members that union leaders “remain committed to reaching a mutual agreement that averts layoffs, preserves benefits, and protects services.”
If a labor deal isn’t in place soon, Malloy’s administration announced last week that it will be forced to move forward with some drastic cuts to state services and programs. From fewer services for the disabled, elderly, and poor to the closure of four courthouses and five Department of Motor Vehicle branches. Those reductions in state services would be coupled with the elimination of 6,560 positions, about 1,599 of which are currently vacant.
Meanwhile, the rallies by state workers, mostly unions that voted for the agreement the first time, continued.
Workers at the White Plains Family Respite Center in Trumbull, one of the nine statewide slated to close if a labor deal is not reached, will hold a rally at noon today.
It’s just one of many which have been held across the state this week.
At an unrelated press conference in Manchester Friday, Malloy said that attempts to clarify the agreement were ongoing but he also implied there wasn’t much left to clarify, saying there is “precious little” left for Ojakian to talk with union leaders about.
He said he remains hopeful an agreement will soon be reached but said the process has taken much longer than it should.
Part of the reason it’s taken so long may be that unions would like more substantial changes to the agreement than the clarifications Malloy has referred to.
“I suspect that people would like to renegotiate aspects of this contract but I’ve made it clear from the start that we’re not going to renegotiate these concessions, we’ll clarify, and we’ll address the problems that were created by being after July 1,” he said.
The governor defended some of the aspects of the agreement most contentious for some state workers, like the value-based healthcare program.
“It was never about controlling peoples’ behaviors,” he said. “If you’re a diabetic, you should take your medicine. If you have a lung disease you should take your medicine.”
The governor was asked several times whether he expected to hear from the unions today but he refused to say.
“I would like to hear. You know you guys, what you all want me to set deadlines? I would like to hear. I think it’s important to hear. I think that the legislature wants to hear. I think their friends in the labor movement around the country want to hear. I think the people that have to make decision about who does or doesn’t lose their jobs want to hear. I think people who will lose their jobs want to hear. I think people want to hear,” he said.