Gov. Dannel P. Malloy acknowledged there were “sharp elbows” thrown over the past eight months between state employee unions and his administration, but said Thursday morning “please don’t question my commitment to labor.“
Addressing the AFL-CIO annual convention at Foxwoods Casino, Malloy said he is committed to helping grow the labor movement and wants to make it easier for employees to organize.
The message was appreciated by the hundreds of union members in attendance.
“It’s the first time in a long time we’ve had a governor that hasn’t actively declared war on the labor movement,” Larry Dorman, spokesman for the AFSCME Council 4, said.
Like Malloy, Dorman acknowledged there were still wounds and raw feelings over the $1.6 billion State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement, but both sides recognize “we need to work together to get the economy moving with great jobs.”
Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, praised the governor for being one of the few that decided to raise taxes this year to balance the budget.
He also acknowledged Malloy hasn’t openly attacked labor, but he thinks Malloy needs to be a better communicator. He said a lot of the anger over the concession agreement was because of the lack of communication and the process.
Godfrey Ferguson, a child support services employee with AFSCME Local 2663, said he thinks the governor was attempting to “mend fences,” with his speech. He said there were some hard feelings over some of his negotiation strategies and many members were “very unhappy with him.”
“The ball was in his court to move forward and I believe that’s what he did today,” Ferguson said.
But Malloy made no apologies for deciding to go down that path and asking the unions to sacrifice.
“We sat down with labor leaders, we had 50 days or so of discussions and we reached an agreement. And I understand took a long time to get it passed, but that was a lynchpin to making sure we didn’t have to cut 18 percent of our budget,“ Malloy said as he reflected on the agreement. “That was a lynchpin to making sure we did not have to take apart our higher educational system. That was a lynchpin to making sure we didn’t have to cut aid to every municipality in the state.”
“We never made it personal,” Malloy said. “You never heard me attack labor and I won’t.”
The room gave him a warm round of applause.
It would have been safer not to show up at an event like this Malloy said. But he said he won’t do that and he knows labor won’t do that either.
He acknowledged that there are governor’s and legislatures across the country making it more difficult to organize.
“It’s a political calculation, if you come off as against labor it’s going to help you,” Malloy said. “And that might be a short term agreement on a short term basis to personal popularity but what would it do for any of us.”
In an approximately 16-minute speech Malloy also asked labor not to question his commitment to replace Connecticut’s failing infrastructure.
“We need to get construction trades back to work,” Malloy said. “We are committed to building that infrastructure.”
Ed Reilly, head of the Ironworkers Union and Hartford Building Trades, a private-sector union, said he liked what the governor had to say.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in him,” Reilly said. “I think he’s heading in the right direction.”
The construction trades have been hit over recent years with upwards of 20 percent unemployment in some instances. Reilly believes Malloy’s investments in infrastructure will help his union get back to work.
“I can’t ignore the fact we are in the fourth year of a very slow economy and that has caused us all to rethink some of our approaches,” Malloy said.
He said that’s why he’s called the legislature back into a special session next month and labor will be invited to the table to be part of the conversations leading up to the special session.
“By the way if we don’t create jobs you can’t organize,” Malloy concluded. “I’m proud to have been invited. I’m proud to have accepted your invitation.”
In an interview after his speech Malloy said his appearance was not about “bridges,” this was about “respect.”
“We talk. We don’t always necessarily agree, but we’re having conversations,” Malloy said.