It is difficult to understand why Gov. Dannel Malloy has spent the past three and a half years alienating the very people he will need this November if he wants to be re-elected. State employees and teachers, who, with their unions, came out for him in a big way in 2010, may not be as excited to be in his corner this year.

There are a number of reasons Malloy is now trying to rekindle his romance with the unions — and not just because he wants their votes. He also wants their money.

Although on paper the concessions he wrangled out of the public sector unions weren’t as severe as they could have been, you wouldn’t know that by the insults Malloy directed at state employees during the negotiations. And he’s been backpedaling ever since he said in 2012 that teachers have to just “show up for four years” to get tenure.

Maybe he figured they would forget how bad things got by the time the next election rolled around. Or perhaps he figured they had no place else to go, so it didn’t matter how he treated them.

Union leadership is clearly showing they will stand by Malloy, as he gathers their endorsements one by one. This week he picked up endorsements from AFT Connecticut and the AFL-CIO

But it is still unclear if union members will follow their leadership in supporting Malloy, particularly because of Jonathan Pelto’s entry into the gubernatorial race, but also because likely Republican candidate Tom Foley is clearly willing to reach out to the unions, more so than many conservative voters may feel comfortable with, as evidenced by his appearance at the AFL-CIO state convention this week.

Malloy’s willingness to court the unions also likely has something to do with the money and other political capital – somewhat ironically, the free labor in the form of hordes of volunteers – that the unions share with their endorsed candidates.

Unions spend big money in Connecticut. For example, the AFL-CIO gave nearly $40,000 to state and local candidates between 2010-2012, almost all to Democrats, with a little also going to the Working Families Party. And that was during a two-year stretch when there was no gubernatorial election in sight.

That’s just a fraction of the amount public sector unions gave to state and local candidates during the same two-year period, according to research I just completed. Those unions — including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); and the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) — gave more than $800,000 to candidates and political action committees in Connecticut.

Those figures are based on the expenditures reported to the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Other reports, which are filed with the federal Department of Labor, show an even fuller picture of how unions flex their fiscal muscles in Connecticut elections.

According to those disclosures, which can be found at, Connecticut’s public sector unions SEIU, AFT and AFSCME (none were found for the CEA) spent $4.3 million on political activities in Connecticut in the years 2011-2013.

It’s no wonder Malloy is now trying to make nice with the unions, and why Foley and Pelto both covet a relationship with them.

Foley is unlikely to get their endorsement or their money, but maybe if he could convince them he isn’t anti-union, they’d be less likely to go full tilt for Malloy in November. Pelto’s a different story — he clearly feels union leaders are ignoring their membership’s wishes by getting cozy with Malloy.

Of course, if union members don’t like the way their leadership is spending their union dues, they can ask for a refund of the part of their dues that are spent on politicking.

That could be the best way in this election year for unionized employees to show their dissatisfaction with their leadership’s continued support of the governor. 

Suzanne Bates is a writer living in South Windsor with her family. While traveling across the country as an Air Force spouse, she worked for news organizations including the Associated Press, the New Hampshire Union Leader, and Good Morning America Weekend. She recently completed a research fellowship at the Yankee Institute. Follow her on Twitter @suzebates.