Closed-door labor talks continued Friday afternoon when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s chief labor negotiator, Mark Ojakian, returned to the CSEA union hall around 2:30 p.m. to continue working on clarifications to a labor savings and concession agreement that failed to win ratification last month.
Despite his confidence in his negotiator, Malloy complained at an event in Manchester that the process is taking too long.
“Listen, this agreement got shot down once, it could get shot down again,“ Malloy said Friday. “It will get shot down again if people don’t do their jobs and explain to people why this is necessary. So let me be very clear: we are prepared to fully fund our obligations in a program that is sustainable.”
In the absence of a sustainable program, he said they are talking about layoffs this year, next year and the year after because the state can’t afford to maintain the current state employment ranks under the current system.
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.
After returning to the union hall Friday afternoon, Ojakian said they continue to have discussions around the tentative agreement, but he refused to offer any specifics.
“We’ve identified the issues that need to be clarified. We feel that we’ve offered a clarification of those issues and now we’re in discussions over those issues and over some language,” he said. “I’m hopeful we can come to some resolution today.”
Sources say the governor was too anxious to announce the first tentative agreement back on May 13 before the final language had been drafted. Some suspect the announcement prior to the release of the 20-page agreement may have led to the “misinformation” campaign. Sources have speculated that misinformation was spread in order to fill the void.
Leslie Maddocks, secretary treasurer of the Connecticut Employees Union Independent, SEIU Local 511, said the governor’s pronouncements of a deal on a clarified agreement being reached is “not helpful.“
Earlier in the day Ojakian thought he had clarified the agreement enough and was waiting to hear back from the unions about whether it was acceptable. But he said he was back at the union hall Friday afternoon because his “clarifications, needed clarification.”
In the meantime, the lack of information from union leadership is troubling to some rank and file union members.
“This is a process and it needs to go forward. Everybody just needs to take a deep breath,” Maddocks, who is in the room with negotiators, said Friday. “We are still talking.”
“It is a frustrating process,” Maddocks said. “It’s not a neat, clean process.”
She said being in the room has been more frustrating than being in the dark like most of the rank and file members. She said the governor, the media, and others shouldn’t be handicapping this because “no one wants this done more than the people in this room.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher.
“We have a lot of pressure on us. There are lots of things at stake, lots of lives at stake,” Maddocks said.
“These layoffs are not just a few that are being proposed and they’re not a one-time shot,” Maddocks said. “I’m not so sure the legislators or governor are cognizant of the trickle down that will effect the community these people live in.”
“The governor just needs to take a deep breath along with our members and the public and realize what’s at stake,” Maddocks said.
With the bill that changes collective bargaining rights on the House calendar, union members are aware that their ability to bargain for health and pension benefits could be changed forever, if this deal doesn’t get ratified.
But even if union leaders reach a deal on a clarified package it’s unclear if the membership will ratify it. Earlier this week union leadership voted to change the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition to lower the threshold for passage of a package.
The labor deal was supposed to generate $1.6 billion in savings over the next two years, and in its absence Malloy has proposed $1.6 billion in service reductions and eliminations, including the elimination of 6,560 positions, 1,599 of which are currently vacant.
Some of the first employees to receive layoff notices will be separated from their employment as early as the middle of next week. If they get separated from their jobs, they will no longer be state employees, and will no longer be able to vote on a concession and savings package.