(Updated 4:23 p.m.) Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes issued this memo to state agency commissioners Friday, advising them of how to prepare for the various possible outcomes of the union vote on a negotiated concession agreement scheduled to conclude next week.
The memo comes as state employee unions prepare to ramp up voting for the second time on a package of $1.6 billion worth of concessions, which the budget is contingent upon. Barnes said it’s hard to predict what the unions will do.
“Since there are a number of variations based on the potential for split votes, with the SEBAC health and pension provisions approved but the individual unit wage and job security agreements rejected, it is difficult to predict the outcome,” he wrote.
At an unrelated event in Wallingford Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the memo was not a reflection of his confidence that the unions will ratify the deal.
“If you read the memo, it speaks of all the eventualities and there are different eventualities depending on how the vote goes and how a particular unit votes on it,” he said. “Some people are doing a two-step process; some people are doing a one-step process. My commissioners have to understand that.”
Malloy said the memo was necessary for the state to move quickly in whatever direction it has to when all the votes are tallied on Aug. 18. There are three possible outcomes, he said.
All the bargaining units could chose to ratify both the healthcare and pension concessions and the wage concession package, he said. In that case, the OPM memo instructs commissioners to rescind any layoffs already issued and halt plans to close facilities.
All could flatly reject the deal, in which case Malloy said, “we lay a lot of people off.”
In the third scenario the healthcare and pension package is ratified but some units reject the wage package, which includes a two-year salary freeze. Those units would not receive the four years of layoff protection negotiated in the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement.
Malloy wouldn’t speculate whether those units should expect layoffs.
“Listen, the only way for a unit to be assured there won’t be layoffs is to approve the agreement and approve the salary portion. Beyond that, you know, we’ll see what happens,” he said.
Barnes’ memo to commissioners was more clear, saying that “layoffs should continue to be carried out and facilities and programs shut down based on the schedule developed by agency” in bargaining units that reject the wage agreement package.
But later in the letter he said agency heads may have some flexibility to rescind some of the layoffs issued to employees of those units. Should they choose to do that, he asked that they send OPM a list of the employees they want back so their bumping rights can be determined.
“You may or may not be able to bring back or retain the same individual as there may be other individuals with superior rights to the position,” he said.
Barnes also asked for a list of non-union and non-permanent employees agencies may wish to keep. Those workers will not enjoy layoff protection even if the agreement is ratified.
The memo asked commissioners to come up with refill plans that fill 10 percent and 30 percent of vacant positions and plans to fill the same percentages of vacancies due to retirements.
Though the Executive Branch is positioning itself to react to whatever the unions decide, the legislature seems to be taking more of a wait and see approach.
On June 30th when the General Assembly was debating whether to increase Malloy’s rescission authority Democratic leaders promised their colleagues they would return before Aug. 15 to hold a public hearing on some of the proposed cuts.
But Monday, Aug. 15 will come and go without a public hearing on those cuts.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he’s not surprised.
In a phone interview Friday, Cafero said after the first failed SEBAC vote he predicted the legislature would never return to vote on the governor’s proposed cuts, or even hold a public hearing on them despite the promises of House Speaker Chris Donovan and Sen. President Donald Williams.
Todd Murphy, Donovan’s spokesman, said Friday that it simply didn’t make sense to hold a public hearing before the conclusion of the union vote.
“If the unions fail to ratify this deal we are prepared to act quickly to hold a public hearing,” Murphy said.
Holding a public hearing now will only distract from the voting process, he added.
Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who stood on the floor of the House and promised the legislature they would return, said he plans on keeping that promise, “for no other reason than to protect my reputation.” He said his credibility, and the credibility of Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, depends on it.
He said the legislature is unlikely to return for a public hearing if the unions ratify the agreement, because if it’s ratified there’s no reason to hold a costly hearing. He said the cost of an off-session hearing would be too expensive.
The date of the public hearing wasn’t written into the rescission bill adopted by the legislature on the last day of the fiscal year. However, it does say the legislature would have to act to call itself back into special session no later than five days after the SEBAC vote.
Cafero said the failure to hold a public hearing and the union’s failure to ratify an agreement all adds to the uncertainty of the state budget. He said the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis isn’t even certain there’s $1.6 billion in savings in the concession package if it is ratified.
“We’re uncertain about almost everything, except the fact that taxes are going up,” Cafero said.
Whatever happens next week, it will put to rest the long-standing question of whether a labor agreement will be ratified and free up state government to focus on other issues.
In his memo, Barnes didn’t seem optimistic about the state’s finances going forward.
“Unfortunately, regardless of the outcome of the ratification, we face an uncertain year. We have considerable savings targets that we must accomplish, and have no option but to operate state government in the black,” he said.
But Malloy said he will be relieved to have it over and done with.
“One way or the other, I’m very much looking forward. I’ve got a lot of work to do and a lot of things that we’ve been waiting on to get going on because we had to, until we knew which direction the budget was moving in and we’re less than a week away,” he said.
He may even get a chance to take a vacation, which he said he’s already delayed once or twice.
“Hopefully in September we’ll find three, four, five days to string together, Cathy and I.”
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.