Ahead of the final State of the State address of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s first term, Connecticut labor unions drew distinctions Thursday between Malloy’s policies and efforts in other states to restrict collective bargaining rights.
“In recent weeks we’ve heard candidates talk about Connecticut having a ‘Wisconsin moment.’ Well let me say unequivocally — we are not Wisconsin. We are proud that this legislature and Gov. Malloy respect the collective bargaining process,” Lori Pelletier, head of Connecticut AFL-CIO, said.
Pelletier and other labor leaders outlined their 2014 agenda in the Legislative Office Building Thursday morning. This year they are seeking to expand collective bargaining rights to new groups of workers and require greater oversight of nonprofit hospitals converting to for-profit models. The unions are also supporting a Malloy proposal to raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2017.
But Pelletier spent some time touting some of the policies already in place in Connecticut. Like the state’s first-in-the-nation law requiring some employers to provide paid sick leave to workers.
“We work hard everyday to make sure we keep Connecticut as a premier example that you can be pro-worker and pro-business. By having the best working conditions we believe will bring the best businesses to our state,” she said.
Malloy echoed the idea a few hours later as he addressed the state’s lawmakers in the Hall of the House of Representatives.
“There are those who claim that any action taken in support of employees is, by definition, harmful to our economy. I fundamentally disagree. A balanced approach that supports both workers and their employers is not only possible, it’s the only responsible path,” he said.
In a statement, Pelletier called Malloy’s remarks “a beacon of hope that next year’s address will show the many rewards all of us will reap if we can just work together for progress.”
But Malloy’s first term was not without its labor conflicts. During his first State of the State speech in 2011, Malloy pressed state employee unions to come up with $2 billion in savings and concessions to help close a more than $3 billion budget hole. That request came just months after labor helped Malloy win the gubernatorial election by one of the smallest margins in recent history.
The administration and union negotiators eventually arrived at an agreement estimated at the time at $1.6 billion in concessions and included a two-year wage freeze for state workers. It took two votes to get state workers to ratify the deal. By the time it was inked state employee union leaders were describing their relationship with the Malloy administration as rocky.
Three years later, Sal Luciano, executive director of AFSCME Council 4, said time has healed some of those wounds. He said most of his members now recognize the severity of the budget situation Malloy was in.
“There was a giant hole within the deficit. I think as time has gone on they’ve understood the reasons why they had to take the zeros, that the [State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition] deal was ultimately not a horrible one for them,” he said.
Malloy has not yet announced whether he will seek re-election. But if he does, Luciano said most union members would support him because, as Pelletier put it, Connecticut is not Wisconsin.
“Those that have the wider view, that understand what’s going on — in Wisconsin, in Michigan, in Rhode Island, in New York — they actually realize that this governor has not reacted like [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich or [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker . . . or even [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo for that matter,” Luciano said.