Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said unionized employees whose bargaining groups approved the wage concession deal will have their layoff notices rescinded and those who already lost their job will be returned to state service by Sept.1.
That’s if the General Assembly doesn’t return to the Capitol within the next five days to reject the agreement. Legislative leaders said returning to approve the deal is an unlikely scenario, which means it will automatically go into effect on Aug. 31.
The ratification of the deal means the closures of Department of Motor Vehicle offices, all nine state respite centers, and other budget saving measures which began to go into effect when there wasn’t a labor agreement in place will be spared for the most part.
The lions share of the savings from those program cuts and branch closing were found in laying off state employees, and now with an agreement in place, Barnes said there’s no reason to do that.
About 3,100 layoff notices went out as of this week.
The 23 layoff notices that went to the Correction Captains and Lieutenants, one of the bargaining unit to vote against the agreement, will stay in place.
“There will be no automatic reinstatement of employees from bargaining units that did not approve the deal,” Barnes said. Discussions between the commissioners and OPM will be held to determine whether those layoff notices should be rescinded in the future.
The only other bargaining unit that may vote against the package is the Connecticut State Police Union, which received 57 layoff notices. The voting in that bargaining unit continues through today.
And with less time than anticipated to find the $1.6 billion in savings, Barnes said the approximately 2,500 vacant positions currently in state government will be looked at carefully. The agreement assumes 1,000 state employees will take retirement and save the state $65 million.
“Obviously some time has passed and the SEBAC agreement was structured based on an entire year. We don’t have quite an entire year now, we’re down to about three-quarters of the year in which we need to find savings,” Barnes said. “We may seek to hold more than 1,000 of those positions vacant.”
He said he’s working on a plan to submit to the governor on how to refill positions.
“We may have to expand the number of jobs we hold vacant to ensure the positive operation of state government,” said Barnes.
In addition the administration will be sitting down with labor to talk about how to achieve the savings its estimated from the so-called “employee suggestion box.”
The $180 million in savings proposed by employees and management to find efficiencies in state government will begin shortly. The numbers have been widely criticized by Republican lawmakers who doubt the two sides can come up with that amount of money in such a short period of time. There are also about $100 million in savings estimated from the implementation of technology and reduced licensing procurement.
“I believe we have hundreds of millions of dollars in potential savings ideas that we can bring to the table,” said Barnes. “Some of them are going to be more or less attractive and will include reductions in grants to outside agencies…or will include reductions in services.”
Republican lawmakers disputed the savings estimated by the concession deal using the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis report from June to prove their point.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis released a report in June saying it didn’t have enough information to conclude $1.6 billion in savings will actually be achieved by the concession deal. Barnes said he disagrees and has given them all the information they need to draw the same conclusion.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said the administration already built enough of a $1 billion surplus into the budget by increasing taxes more than it needed to, so it won’t have to do much if the savings from the labor agreement fail to materialize.
“This is a great day for the governor, politically,” Cafero said. “Because he believes that this issue, finally after eight months—getting the budget done the way he wanted it done—is done.”
SEBAC has already submitted 12-pages of suggestions to the administration on how its frontline workers believe the state can save millions of dollars.
Some of the examples on the list include using state employees instead of outside interpreters in agencies such as Department of Social Services, stop allowing vendors to use proprietary software systems and downsize the number of managers.
Barnes said there are millions of dollars to be saved just in how the state operates state office buildings and the number of hours it decides to keep them open.
“We have $500,000 from reducing the way in which we provide security in state office building,” said Barnes. “We could shortened the hours. Still leaving them open well beyond normal business hours and save another $400,000.”
“Those are some of the no-brainers on the list,” said Barnes.
The more challenging items would be fare increases for MetroNorth riders, and changes in how “we reimburse providers under Medicaid,” he added.